Meeting Stewart Island locals

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We recently took our family to Stewart Island to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness there and during our stay met many friendly and interesting locals. The people are really friendly and helpful, and the wildlife also surprisingly accomodating of humans. My eldest daughter and I encountered a kiwi in broad daylight (at 11:15am) as it crossed the track in front of us on Ulva island. That was the highlight of the trip for me, but we were also visited each day by a rowdy group of kaka who hung around town like a gang of teenagers.
We were so inspired by this trip that my wife and I are now dreaming of how to live on the island permanently!

Recalibrating my reading


Back in November 2011 I published a list of books I wanted to read. Looking at that list now seven years later, I am dismayed at how few of those books I have actually completed reading since then. From a list of 85 books that I claimed I wanted to read, I have read a total of 8 of them seven years later:

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  • Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
  • The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp by Bernice Koehler Johnson

That’s only 10%, why so few?
The problem is not that haven’t been reading much over the last seven years (I’ve read a total of 180 books over this period). I think the issue is that the sort of books I actually read is different to the books I think I should read.
When I analyse the list of what I thought I should read, it contained 30 literary classics, of which I have read two, though I’ve also read some other classics which were not on my list in 2011. There were also 43 books about Christian topics, many of these books are quite ‘serious’ and require concentration to read well. I’ve often felt guilty for not reading some of these books which I spent good money to buy and are by reputable authors. However, I have read plenty of books on Christian topics in the last seven years, what tends to determine exactly which books I choose to read is the issues I happen to be wrestling with at the time.
My choices of what to read are driven by multiple factors, here are some I can think of:

  • What I’m already part way through reading (I usually have 3 or 4 books on the go simultaneously)
  • How I am feeling (do I want something light, or am I in the mood to concentrate?)
  • Time available
  • Current ability to concentrate (do I have an hour alone or fifteen minutes with kids bouncing around)
  • Book availability (am I at home where the hardcopy is, do I only have my Kindle)
  • How public is my location (I’m not going to read The Mortification of Sin at work!)
  • What issues are currently on my mind
  • Am I trying to learn something in particular

For good or bad, those are the kinds of things which influence what I actually read. The results of such choices are reflected in the list of books I’ve read over recent years. What is immediately apparent is an abundance of lighter Christian reading, ‘business’ and ‘self-help’ books and fiction compared to the serious list of what I should read.
A factor in these differences is something I wrote back in the 2011 post:

In choosing books to read, I am trying to aim for literature that will enrich my soul – quality rather than quantity.

While that is a good aspiration, it doesn’t account for reality. In order to enrich my soul what I am reading has to meet some immediate need or I will discard the book and opt for something else. I do try to slowly plod through serious books even while I’m reading more interesting stuff, but if it is too hard I keep putting it aside and eventually forget the flow of the book so achieve nothing.
Moving forward I think I need to make use of libraries more where I can, it is easier to try a book and then discard it without guilt if it is borrowed rather then one I bought. I do want to finish reading all the books I have purchased myself though so will need to exert discipline to keep reading some of those harder ones on my bookshelves at home.
Something I did do this week is cull all the freebies from my Kindle library (over 150 of them!). My reasoning is that even if I only paid 99c for a kindle book on sale, the barrier of actually paying real money should have caused me to give the purchase decision more thought than if the book was free. Also, a lot of the freebies were in the ‘old and difficult to read’ category so had been sitting there un-read for years, better to be shot of them.
An encouraging trend is that over the last three years my reading rate has picked up sharply so it could be that if I revisit this topic in another seven years a lot more of the books already on my shelves will have found their way on to the lists of books I have read. I hope so, because they are good books and will enrich my soul if I put in the effort to read them. But I also want to see plenty of poetry and fiction on my reading lists in future years, also a bit more history and biography. The business and self-help categories can probably be dumped without any loss to my wellbeing.
To make my musings here more concrete, I’ve come up with some personal ‘book selection guidelines’:

  • Prioritise books I already own
  • Use libraries as much as possible
  • Try books but abandon the junk quickly
  • Classic novels are usually good reading
  • Read lots of poetry
  • Read what I enjoy, we all have our own tastes
  • Don’t feel guilty for reading fiction

A boy’s world

Lego, army figures, tanks and trains
wooden railway encircling planes
worlds in your head
worlds in your hands
You could grow up to be an engineer
but how can I know the future from here
all I’m sure of
is who you are now
Absorbed in your game, oblivious
the creations you make, ingenious
lost in your world
your world is us
Wiry arms wrapped around my neck
my stubble prickling your smooth cheek
kiss, cuddle, kiss
not letting go.


This poem was inspired watching my son playing and thinking about the world as he might see it, but written from my perspective as a father. 

Tooth extraction


As a flow-on effect of the sinus surgery I had a month ago, the CT scan which was done for that procedure showed a tooth with an infected root eroding the bone of my sinus cavity, so that also had to go. I had the tooth out on Friday afternoon, dosed myself up on painkillers and then enjoyed an evening of Bill Bailey with my wife and daughter to take my mind off it. (Actually we booked the tickets months ago, it was just bad timing that it coincided with the dental procedure).

The Land of Far Beyond


We are currently reading our 9-year-old a book by Enid Blyton called “The Land of Far Beyond” which is like a kids version of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. In this story people like Patience and Peter do well if they stay on the narrow path and avoid the company of folks such as Despair but instead choose to travel with people such as Cheerful and Courageous. Unfortunately, on their journey to the City of Happiness the travellers find it all too easy to stray from the path and wander into all sorts of trouble.
It would be easy to be cynical and mock a story like this, but instead I find myself wondering if a simple approach to life and faith might do me good? Maybe I’m wishing that in real life pitfalls were clearly labelled as they are in this story, that the name of a person would instantly let me know what they were truly like. Most of all I want to be able to see that I am indeed walking on the narrow way – sometimes it feels like it would be easier to undertake a long arduous journey to a place far away than to muddle through the labyrinth of life as a sinner in a fallen world.
I guess what I’m pondering is how much easier it would be to live by the guidelines of simple virtues and avoiding clearly defined vices. In our society this tends to be branded as conservatism, traditionalist and intolerance, but the New Testament seems to urge us to such a life and I much prefer it to the muddied morality of secularism. It would also be more emotionally honest to be able to identify in myself when I’m being lazy or diligent, content or covetous.

Blog consolidating and spring-cleaning

Consolidating

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been consolidating and spring cleaning my blog. This has involved  using a self-hosted WordPress installation to import a bunch of old backup files, then adding some other posts by hand that were not in these backups for various reasons. After that I had to go through and remove duplicated posts, clean up and publish some old drafts that needed to see daylight, and then delete all the remaining drafts that I’m not going to use. Once everything was together in one place I cleared out all the content from WordPress.com and imported the consolidated site back here.
The result is that this blog (A Saved Wretch) now has 741 published posts, an additional 380 over what was here a month ago. Even so, there are still a few posts I know I’ve written but cannot find which I will add once I track them down.

Blogging philosophy

Over the years I have wavered on my ideas as to what I wanted to present to the world on my personal website, initially it was strongly focused on my Christian faith, then while I was seeking a career change I tried to cultivate a different persona in case employers Googled my name.
The mindset I’ve settled into now is that very few people ever visit this site so it is actually primarily for me. I’m also getting old enough that there’s no point trying to change how others might perceive me based on what they stumble across here so it’s easier to just be myself. So there is a real mix of stuff on the blog, from single sentence updates to articles of several thousand words, all covering a fairly broad range of topics.

Spring-cleaning

The spring-cleaning will be ongoing as I loop through all the posts (I’m going from oldest to newest) fixing typos, spelling errors, broken links, missing images and inconsistent formatting. While this is a big job, it is also interesting to me as I look back over nine years of blogging and see the changes in my writing.

Archives

Moving forward and as I do my spring-cleaning, I’m saving a plain text copy of each post with the categories, tags and publication date included, labelled with the post name. I making a folder for each of these plain text files and adding to those folders the original and resized image files plus any other relevant files for each post. One of my biggest headaches has been tracking down all the pieces that need to be put together into some posts. I’m keeping all this stuff synched with Dropbox so I can work on it anywhere.

Categories and tags

Another remaining task is to rationalise my tags and categories. I currently have 15 categories and 430 tags. My present approach is to try to make the categories obvious, I want to avoid subtle distinctions between categories, it should be immediately clear what category a post belongs to. The tags are where the finer distinctions come into play.
The point of this is to use categories and tags to enable the WordPress algorithm to display ‘related posts’. In my early days blogging I manually linked to related posts within the body of each post I wrote. However, this approach has problems; it is really time consuming, I can only link to what I’ve already published (i.e., future content won’t be referenced even if it is closely related), and it leads to a lot of broken links over time.
A couple of things I’ve learned from this exercise:

  • keep backups in multiple storage locations
  • make sure backups are well labelled
  • have a logical system for labeling and archiving images
  • plain text copies of the text of posts are super valuable

If anyone has wisdom or ideas on how to do any of this stuff better please let me know in the comments!

Sinus surgery

At 2pm last Monday I was knocked out. It was done gently with an anaesthetic but once that wore off it certainly felt like someone very large has smacked me hard on the nose.

For a long time I’ve suffered from almost continuous head colds, one would resolve only to be promptly replaced by another. Eventually a referral to the otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) department at Dunedin hospital resulted in a CT scan and decision to give me a nose job and clear out my sinus cavities to get the air circulating around inside my head more freely.

According to the surgeon the procedure went well and overall I think the recovery has been OK. For the first four days afterwards I really did feel like I’d been hit very hard on the nose. That has now subsided and mostly I’d describe what remains as blood and bogies. The sinus cavities were packed with dissolvable packing which obviously has to come back out eventually. I’m still quite blocked up, just like a really bad cold or sinus infection!

Time will tell how effective all this is at easing my head cold problem, hopefully it turns out to be worth the discomfort.

Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.

Who wants to give Facebook their nude pics?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been wondering if maybe deleting my Facebook account was such a good move – I’ve found out second-hand about a couple of happenings within my friends and family which I’d have picked up on much sooner if I’d been on Facebook. This had me reconsidering whether the benefit of keeping in touch with people might be worth the cost of my privacy.

Then I read an article today about a new Facebook pilot programme to protect people from revenge porn by teaching their software to recognise images of concern to users. The snag is that you have to first provide Facebook a copy of the image you want to block, effectively send all your nude pics to Facebook!.

I understand how this could potentially be a useful tool, but given the already shady reputation of this company it has very creepy overtones to it. If this was a government organisation or reputable non-profit who were recognised for their work on protecting people’s privacy I’d have a bit more confidence in the concept. Given that it is Facebook… nah, just seems wrong.

Fortunately I have no concerns about potentially incriminating photos of me surfacing on social media, but the sheer creepiness on this pilot scheme has me recoiling in horror from the Zuckerberg monster. I think I will stay away for some time yet.

People shouldn’t be able to share intimate images to hurt others
By Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety

It’s demeaning and devastating when someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission, and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this abuse. We’re now partnering with safety organizations on a way for people to securely submit photos they fear will be shared without their consent, so we can block them from being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. This pilot program, starting in Australia, Canada, the UK and US, expands on existing tools for people to report this content to us if it’s already been shared.

My team and I have traveled to nine countries across four continents, listening to stories about the abuse and cruelty that women face online. From Kenya to Sweden, women shared their painful, eye-opening experiences about having their most intimate moments shared without permission. From anxiety and depression to the loss of a personal relationship or a job, this violation of privacy can be devastating. And while these images, also referred to as “revenge porn” or “non-consensual pornography,” harm people of all genders, ages and sexual-orientations, women are nearly twice as likely as men to be targeted.

Today, people can already report if their intimate images have been shared without their consent, and we will remove each image and create a unique fingerprint known as a hash to prevent further sharing. But we can do more to help people in crisis prevent images from being shared on our services in the first place. This week, Facebook is testing a proactive reporting tool in partnership with an international working group of safety organizations, survivors, and victim advocates, including the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and The National Network to End Domestic Violence in the US, the UK Revenge Porn Helpline, and YWCA Canada.

People who worry that someone might want to harm them by sharing an intimate image can proactively upload it so we can block anyone else from sharing it on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger:
– Anyone who fears an intimate image of them may be publicly can contact one of our partners to submit a form
– After submitting the form, the victim receives an email containing a secure, one-time upload link
– The victim can use the link to upload images they fear will be shared
– One of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team will review the report and create a unique fingerprint, or hash, that allows us to identify future uploads of the images without keeping copies of them on our servers
– Once we create these hashes, we notify the victim via email and delete the images from our servers – no later than seven days
– We store the hashes so any time someone tries to upload an image with the same fingerprint, we can block it from appearing on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger
This is one step to help people who fear an intimate image will be shared without their consent. We look forward to learning from this pilot and further improving our tools for people in devastating situations like these. (Facebook)