Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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No Thanks Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Not knowing what you don’t know.

Lyric Holmans has released a Youtube clip explaining why she finds people overwhelming. You can view the clip and read a transcription on her blog. Like her, I find people can be overwhelming, and the reasons are similar – non-vocal communications.

While humans may be the only species to have developed a language, all vertebrates and many invertebrates communicate in various ways with their own species, and to a lesser extent other species. And while non-vocal communication may take second place to spoken (or written) communication in humans, it remains an important factor in our everyday communications.

For the first 60 years of my life, I was totally unaware that language (spoken or written) was complemented by other forms of communication, namely body language and facial expressions. I’m not alone. Many people don’t realise that body language exists, but nevertheless, they use it and read it every day. It’s instinctive to them. For many autistics, including myself, its not. Hence the title of this article.

During those first 60 years, I was able to read body language in domestic pets – better than most people in fact – in babies and to a lesser extent, toddlers. But apart from the way lips form with a smile or laughter I was unaware that the face, especially the eyes, can convey a whole raft of emotions and ideas. Even so, I was unable to distinguish between a grin and a grimace. I was completely unaware that humans also used posture, movement of body and hands, even vocal pitch and volume to supplement the words they use.

Now that I do know that a significant part of human communication is non-vocal, I’m able to look for it, and that in itself can be overwhelming. In the first place, making a conscious effort to look for non-vocal communication requires effort, so much so, that sometimes I forget to listen to the actual words being spoken. And then I’m always asking myself whether or not a particular facial or body movement is indeed intended (intentionally or not) to communicate something. And if it is intended to communicate something, what exactly?

I managed to survive the first sixty years of my life, more or less intact, not knowing that body language and facial expressions play a vital role in interpersonal communications. I’m yet to be persuaded that knowing it exits at all, let alone its importance, makes my communication with others, as individuals or groups, any less overwhelming. In my case it might actually make it more so. Group dynamics is another mystery to me (Lyric touches on it in the post linked to above), but that’s a topic for another day.


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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.