Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Murphy’s law

We’ve had a few days of torrential rain. Of course at started after I hung up several loads of laundry on the clothesline. Then the gods decided to apply Murphy’s law. It wasn’t quite dry when the the skies opened and the rain fell by the bucket load. There was no way I was going out to bring washing that was wetter than when it was hung up, so I left it up to nature to give the clothes an ultra rinse.

I really didn’t expect it to be a two day rinse, but that’s what it was. This morning the sun came out, so we did some more washing and hung that up alongside the loads from two days earlier, which by that time was partially dry. Time to go for a pre-Christmas haircut. The Wife and I duly drive to the Hairdresser a mere 5 minutes away and in less than thirty minutes we’re both done.

The sky looked decidedly grey as we came out, and just as we closed the car doors, a light rain shower started. The washing! We weren’t going to let Murphy get the better of us time. Our plans to visit the pharmacy and a D.I.Y. store on the way home were abandoned as we made a dash to save the washing. It was a futile effort. This is what we found when we arrived home.

Another ultra rinse is in progress. Tomorrow promises more of the same.


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Truth

Fiction is a lie that tells us true things over and over again.

Neil Gaiman

We have art in order not do die from the truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Emily Dickinson

There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.

Maya Angelou


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Musical Monday (2021/11/08) – One tree Hill

This song is very personal to me. It was written in honour of a young man I new well – Greg Carroll. We worked together as engineers for a large multinational I.T. company. We were part of a small provincial branch with four staff members located in the city of Whanganui. Greg was a very personable young man and was held in high regard by our customers – more perhaps for his genuineness, honesty and likeable personality than for his engineering skills.

I stayed with the company for a total of thirty-five years, but Greg moved on after a year, perhaps two, when he became the sound engineer for a local rock band. That may not seem long to get to know someone well, but our job required a considerable amount of driving and often Greg would accompany me as I drove between the small, widely scattered towns that made up our branch territory. A typical day might consist of up to four hours on the road, and a return trip to Turangi, our farthest outpost took six hours. You can cover a wide spectrum of topics over that period of time.

I’m not a good conversationalist, but somehow Greg, my junior by about 11 years, had the ability to make everyone at ease, including me. I honestly can no longer recall what we talked about on the road and the occasional overnight stay in a motel or hotel several hours from home, but I do remember that outside of my immediate family there was no-one I felt more comfortable being with. Unfortunately Greg died in a motorcycle crash in Dublin in 1986.

There are several Youtube video clips of U2 performing One Tree Hill, mostly from live performances in various locations around the world, but the one I have chosen here is a video cobbled together by TVNZ for their weekly music show Ready to Roll. One Tree Hill has been released as a single in Aotearoa and quickly rose to the number one spot on the NZ hit parade. This is the version I remember seeing in 1988.

There being no official music video, TVNZ brought together clips of previous U2 visits to Aotearoa, segments of the tangihanga (funeral) at the Kai-iwi Marae near Whanganui, and images of One Tree Hill and Greg. It also includes images of the Whanganui River and the rugged hill country inland from the city of Whanganui. The journey inland to the nearest township of Raetihi took approximately eighty minutes in ideal conditions. For much of its length, the road winds along the valley wall of the Upokongaro Stream, a contributory of the Whanganui River, rising 760 m (2500 ft) in 87 Km (54 miles).

This was a road I traversed at least one a week, often with Greg’s company. If you do the maths, you’ll notice that the average speed for the journey was 65 km/h (40 mph) and that was a good run without stops or hazards such as slips (common in wet weather) or flocks of sheep being moved to fresh pastures (common all year round) or semi-feral sheep that had escaped the confines of farms and were of the opinion that they were the masters of the road. Other vehicles were few and far between so the opportunities to opine world affairs or share dreams and aspiration were plentiful. We did.

One Tree Hill – U2 (captured from TVNZ’s RTR in 1988)

"One Tree Hill" – U2

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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Some people…

Yesterday

I had one of those pesky con artists, this time claiming to be from the Spark Security office (Spark is NZ’s largest ISP) informing me that there was a problem with my internet connection and it would need to be shut down, however if I cooperated the issue could be fixed on the spot. As usual, I let the caller lead me through the various steps of trying to gain control of my computer. As typically happens, she incorrectly assumed I was using Windows (I was asked to describe the key to the right of the left Ctrl key) and we spent a fruitless half hour trying to bring up the Run command box. However as I run a variant of Linux, that’s not an option.

Finally she attempted to get me to download and install a remote desktop application, on this occasion AnyDesk, usually it’s TeamViewer. It was at this point that let her know I wasn’t entirely stupid and needed verification that she was indeed who she said she was. We then spent another twenty-five minutes discussing or perhaps arguing about her credential. Strangely, when I told her that so far this year I’d had at least ten hoax internet related calls she tried the “not everyone is evil, so you should be more trusting”. Yeah right.

We spent another twenty or so minutes while she tried to persuade me that all I needed to do was trust her, and I insisted I wasn’t able to do that. She finally gave up after (for her) a frustrating fifty-four minutes. I despise the actions of such individuals. I’m not going to judge the person as harshly as I don’t know their circumstances, but attempting to fleece someone simply because one can is surely a marker of one’s contempt for others.

Today

The Wife and I went to our usual barber/hair stylist for haircuts plus a beard trim for me. He’s a very sociable guy who seems to be able to encourage his clients to chat about all and nothing. The Wife had her hair done first and the room filled with loud and very public conversation between her and Ihaia (the barber) including politics (NZ and the US), families (his and ours), the weather (it’s been atrocious today), and of course Covid (especially the regarding deniers and anti-vaxers). Even I am able to participate although perhaps less fluidly than other customers, and always privately. During my time in the chair, I happened to mention that yesterday was our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Afterwards, as the Wife was about to take out her EFTPOS card Ihaia told her to put it away as the haircuts were on him. When the Wife asked why, he said it was a fiftieth anniversary gift. Obviously, she hadn’t heard my conversation with him. While the Wife almost broke his neck in a heartfelt hug, the other customer clapped and cheered. Now that’s a good feeling.

Conclusion

While I’ve been at the receiving end of abuse for much of my life, I understand why. Most people are able to empathise only with what is familiar to them. They have no way of understanding what an autistic person experiences – hell, even many so called autism experts have no clue – so they judge my behaviour in neurotypical terms. Making allowances for that, I find most (but not all) are kind and generous.

Then there are the few who have little or no interest in the well being of others, and seem to have utter contempt for them. One being the former POTUS and another being yesterday’s “Spark security officer”. Fortunately I’ve never met one in person. They either arrive in news items, by email or telephone, always from a location outside of Aotearoa. It’s only since the internet has become ubiquitous that I have had personally experienced scam attempts. I wonder if this says something about the internet, or modern society, or is it simply a reflection of the fact that I’m fortunate to have been born in the least corrupt nation on earth?


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A long journey, but oh so quick

Fifty years ago today, in the privacy of a suite in a ryokan (Japanese style inn), the wife prostrated herself in front of me and vowed to be a good, dutiful and obedient wife. I suppose some new husbands might delight in such a moving offer, but I was shocked and appalled. That was not what I envisioned. I had grown up in a very egalitarian society and in a whānau that was even more so.

I had seen in her – and still do – a wilful, independent spirit that was at the same time, tender, gentle, wild and fierce. What she was offering was servitude. What I wanted was someone to share my life with – as equal partners. For life. I don’t recall exactly what I said in response, but I remember lifting her up from the floor and (apparently crossly, according to the wife) telling her that if that was what she wanted, we may as well end the relationship right now, as I wanted her to be herself, my partner and friend, not my servant.

I’ve made many mistakes during my life, and I sometimes joke that my biggest mistake was telling the wife I didn’t want her to be obedient. It certainly has made life more unpredictable and challenging, but oh so wonderful – exciting even. I still sometimes wonder what she saw in me – a reserved, socially awkward undiagnosed autistic, not known for expressing or showing emotions. Certainly not handsome by western standards, more exotic than handsome by Japanese standards of the day, but she often reminds me that my patience, sense of fairness, absence of negativity and being ridiculously accepting and tolerant of alternative beliefs and perspectives attracted her, and my declaration in that ryokan confirmed her choice. She makes a point of emphasising ‘ridiculously‘ at times as she often finds tolerating my tolerance very difficult.

Fifty years seem to have flown by in less than a blink of an eye. I have spent 70% of my life with a woman who is both delightful and charming yet at times tests my patience and tolerance almost to breaking point. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We really have shared out delights and dispairs together.

As to the future, there’s little chance of another fifty years together, but with a history of longevity in both our families, another twenty to twenty-five years is a distinct possibility. I sincerely hope that those years pass at a more leisurely pace than those already gone for no other reason than to delight in the company of the person I have grown to love in a way I never thought possible.

It’s unlikely that she will read this post – she’s never asked me to provide her with a link to my blog – but I wish to extend a public expression of my gratitude for having her as my life partner. So thank you Sayoko, my Honey-chan, for being my friend, confidante and lover.


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Musical Monday (2021/10/25) – Mr Tambourine man

Back in the late 1960s I was a young adult, still in my late teens, but unlike most of my peers I had no friends or social life – in fact I found interaction with typical teens and young adults perplexing and at times terrifying. I had no dreams or aspirations, but no regrets or fears either. I simply existed. My life was quite empty.

In hindsight, this seems to be to fate of many young autistic males, although it would take more than another forty years before I was to discover that I am autistic. I wasn’t unhappy, but being a social outcast, and knowing one is but not knowing why did create a longing that I vaguely felt somewhere within.

I have quite high levels of alexithymia and aphantasia. I lack an awareness of emotions in others and myself, and I am unable to conjure images in my mind. This is where music comes in. Some music causes me to feel what I assume to be emotions. Occasionally music may stimulate a vague mental image. Very rarely a piece of music may do both. This cover version of Mr Tambourine Man by Melanie (Safka) is one such piece.

I’m not sure exactly when the cover version of Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds landed on the hit parade, but I guess it was around 1965 or 1966. I had no interest in it at the time, and still don’t. Then at the end of 1968 Melanie released her cover version on her album Born To Be. I definitely took notice of that version. I could feel the hair in the back of my neck rise, especially as she sings the last verse starting from “And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind“,

It’s an imagery I can actually see, albeit as a black silhouette on a misty grey background or perhaps as a monochrome sand painting or perhaps as a slightly abstract pen and ink drawing. It’s difficult to describe as I can only see it while the song is being played. I can see the frozen leaves and the haunted frightened trees. I even sense the fear of those trees.

When I first heard Melanie sing the words “With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves let me forget about today until tomorrow“, I felt an instant connection. Perhaps I was a recognition that my life at that time was one of near solitude and I needed more. Whatever it was, there was a connection to the song and the singer in a way that I had never felt before. And still today, more than fifty years later, Melanie’s version of this Bob Dylan song moves me like no other does.

Enjoy!

Mr. Tambourine Man, sung by Melanie, composed by Bob Dylan

Lyrics to Mr Tambourine man composed by Bob Dylan

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you

Though I know that evening's empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand
But still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin'
I'm ready to go anywhere
I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you

Though you might hear laughin', spinnin' swingin' madly across the sun
It's not aimed at anyone
It's just escapin' on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin'
And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time
It's just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn't pay it any mind
It's just a shadow you're seein' that he's chasing

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you

And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach
Of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today
Until tomorrow

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you


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Masks and communications

While most of my readers have been living under various forms of covid-19 restrictions for upwards of eighteen months, for us Kiwis in Aotearoa New Zealand, and especially outside of Auckland it is a novel experience. Social distancing and masks have not been everyday parts of our lives until around 2 months ago when the delta variant finally succeeded in breaching our border security measures and is proving impossible to eradicate, unlike previous variants.

Mask wearing is now mandatory for people aged 12 and over when taking public transport or visiting businesses, and recommended when away from one’s home or “social bubble”. Personally, apart from yet being unable to find a means to avoid the fogging of my glasses, I find my stress level definitely rises to the point where it can’t be ignored after about 30 minutes of continuous mask wearing, and I need to remove it, even if only for a minute, to restore myself to something resembling normalcy. I can usually achieve that by retiring to the car or finding an out of the way park seat or equivalent where the mask can be briefly removed in safety.

However, that’s not the most serious downside to mask wearing. I have always had impaired hearing. I was diagnosed as having 70%-90% hearing loss when I was around 7 or 8. Normally I can get by reasonably well, and when a word or two can’t be clearly recognised, I can usually deduce it by context. It’s only just in the past week that it has really dawned on me how reliant I am on lip reading as an essential component of my ability to understand the spoken word.

I’ve recently had several occasions where it has been necessary to converse with a shop assistant while making a purchase. In one case it was a quiet environment but I was unable to recognise even half the words spoken by the assistant. Often I was unable to understand even the gist of what he said. By the end of the transaction I suspect he was just as frustrated as I was about the slow progress of our conversation. I found the entire process embarrassing and somewhat humiliating.

Later in the week, I visited a somewhat noiser shop where I had gone to pick up some items I had bought and paid for online. Sure I could have had them delivered, but the delivery would have cost more than the products. I’m not a penny pincher, but we do have a fixed and somewhat limited budget to live on. In theory I should have been in and out of the shop inside of a minute, but it was not to be. It didn’t help that the online instructions for collecting online purchases were incorrect for the local branch. In fact it may have been less confusing if there had been no instructions at all.

After waiting at the counter under a sign reading “Collect online purchases here” and seemingly being ignored, I sought out a shop assistant and explained why I was there. To cut a long story short, it took over half an hour to collect my purchase and only then because I finally resorted to seeking yes or no replies or asking them to point or make a specific gesture order for them to communicate with me. At no time did it occur to them to initiate non-spoken communication. I found I had to give specific instructions. Even when I discovered that where I was waiting for my pickup is no longer applicable, and then asking where I should go, no one thought to point in the appropriate direction until I specifically asked them to point with their arm/hand/finger in which direction I should go.

I’m not sure what sort of privileged lives the young people working in that shop have “endured”, but it was apparent to me that they wouldn’t understand the irony of directing a wheelchair bound person to take the stairs to a different floor or instructing a blind person to read a sign painted on the wall. I would have thought that people with disabilities are encountered often enough that most non-disabled folk would have some level of understanding or empathy. Apparently not.

Come to think of it, while I don’t consider being autistic as being disabled, some of the hyposensitivities and hypersensitivities that result from being autistic can be made disabling by a lack of empathy, and sometimes by antagonism in the 99% of the population who are neurotypical. So in hindsight I really shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of understanding or empathy I have received over the past week or so due to no longer being able to augment spoken conversation by lip reading.

Perhaps I am on more common ground with neurotypicals when it come to reading facial expressions of those who are masked. I’ve heard and read many complaints about how much more likely it is to misunderstand someone or be misunderstood when masks cover so much of the face. I’ve queried a few acquaintances about this, and they tell me that it does reduce the amount of non-verbal communication they receive. The amount of perceived loss seems to vary considerably. When pressed, it’s varied from “some” to “heaps” (a lot).

Most people don’t think about how much body language and facial expressions contribute to spoken communication until it’s brought to their attention or they find it missing from others or they realise their own intentions are not always fully understood. The necessity to wear masks is bringing the significance of non-verbal forms of communication to the attention of some of the more socially aware folk.

My own (admittedly very anecdotal) investigation suggests that people rely on the eyes as much, if not more, than other facial expressions. So while a mask can reduce the amount of non-verbal information received, it doesn’t eliminate it. If anyone has tried the Mind in the eye test, they will realise how much most people can read from looking at the eyes alone. So spare a moment to consider the situation I now find myself in.

I do very poorly when reading facial expressions. I can recognise a few basic facial expressions, but if I rely solely on the eyes I’m lost. The average for adults taking the Mind in the eye test is 26 out of a possible score of 36, but varies from 17 to 35. Women average slightly higher than men. For autistics, the average is 22. I’ve tried the test many times, and the best I have ever done is 17 out of the possible score of 36. Typically I hover around the score that might result from random selection – a one in four chance of getting the correct answer for any given question – 9 out of 36. In other words, I haven’t a clue how to read eyes.

It is becoming clear to me that what emotions I can read from the face depend almost entirely on the mouth and now that they are effectively hidden behind masks, I am blind to emotions being expressed unless someone describes their emotion(s) in words. I’m really not sure how I can effectively remedy the the losses I now realise I am faced with, as I don’t see the likelihood of masks being done away with for some considerable time, if at all.

I’ve spent seventy years learning how to limit social faux pas, and more importantly, how to recognise them when they occur so that I can take remedial action. I can foresee that mask wearing will set me back decades. Perhaps it’s time I seriously thought about becoming a hermit as a full time occupation.


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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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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.