New name, new host, same blog

Yesterday I made a couple of changes to my blog, though I’m hoping that you will barely notice one of them.

The change you will most likely notice is a change of blog name, from ‘Mike McArthur’ to ‘A Saved Wretch’. This is the name I used for my blog for a while in 2014 and despite not using it since then I kept the domain name because I like it.

Over recent weeks I’ve been feeling that I should write more about my faith than I have been and the name change is based on this conviction. I like this name for the depth of meaning it derives from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

I personally identify with being amazed that God in his grace would save a wretch like me. This is a significant element of my story so seems appropriate to use as the name for my personal blog. And while I do want to write about my faith a bit more, this remains a personal blog – an ongoing story of my life. Topics will continue to range wherever my wandering mind happens to go.

I mentioned having made two changes. The second is switching my hosting provider from Siteground to My one year of hosting at Siteground expires soon and while they offered a 60% discount on the first year, the full price thereafter is a bit steep for what you get so it was time to look elsewhere. have a massive and efficient infrastructure, tailored towards ease of use. The platform is restricting with respect to not allowing plugins on the cheaper plans, but this is not currently an issue to me so the pros outweigh the cons for what I need. I’m using the same theme as I had previously, so all you are likely to notice about this change is different wording in the site footer credits.

Eliminating human interaction

I’ve only this week become aware of a retail revolution that causes me significant anxiety the more I learn about it.

The poster child of this revolution is Amazon Go, a cashier-less grocery store in downtown Seattle which opened to the public on 22 January 2018.

There are cameras and sensors, to detect when you’ve walked in and when items are removed from shelves, and there are check-in kiosks near the entrance for scanning your phone to register your presence via Amazon Prime. (Nick Statt on The Verge)

For an idea of what the sensors are like check out the article: Amazon Go cashierless convenience store opens in the Seattle Times. The idea of computers and artificial intelligence tracking my every movement in a shop has a distinctly Orwellian tone to it, but on the other hand being able to just walk in, pick up what you need and then walk out without waiting in queues is appealing.

Amazon is not the only online retail giant playing with this sort of technology, Alibaba  has also trailed a checkout-free store which uses facial recognition to charge customers for their purchases automatically: Alibaba’s cash-free Tao Cafe

I want to emphasise that I am not a conspiracy theorist, I think the development of ways to avoid checkout queues and reduce staffing costs is an obvious progression based on human nature. Customers want secure ways to pay that minimise waiting times, and retailers want whatever mechanism they can find to maximise profit, reduce theft and streamline accounting. The hardware and software used in these cashier-less stores facilitates advantages for both retailers and customers.

For the majority of people, convenience subtly but strongly influences behaviour, gradually altering social norms with things like cars, ATMs, and contactless payment now quite normal. It’s not difficult to envisage a progression to biometric and implanted technology which enables people to completely do without credit or debit cards, cash or cheques. A completely cashless society is still decades away in my estimate (it was predicted when the first EFT-POS machines arrived), but probably inevitable.

The convenience of not having to worry about carrying cash or cards would be nice, but I do have some concerns about the whole thing. Obviously for Christians there is the scary spectre of Revelation 13:16-17, but even without that I worry that our technological ‘progress’ is taking us too quickly into realms in which our psychological wellbeing is unable to cope.

Humans have always lived in community, to be alone is risky for survival and useless for propagating the species. Because we are social beings, we are finely tuned to the reactions of people around us and the relationships we have with them. By automating everything they can get their hands on, engineers are interfering with this dynamic and may end up driving increasing numbers of people into serious psychological distress. Maybe this seems like an over reaction, but it is not difficult to find reports of people who live alone and only really interact with shop attendants and bus drivers, is it a good thing to eliminate even these few personal interactions?

A few relevant links:

Disadvantages of always carrying a notebook

For at least the last five years I have carried a small notebook in my back pocket, a habit I highly recommend. I very seldom use my iPhone to capture short notes, anything I want to remember goes into my notebook.

However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to always having that notebook in my back pocket:

Pocket wear from my ever-present notebook

I always keep my notebook in the same pocket, with the result that over time it has worn a hole in that pocket of my jeans. I would have thought my phone would have worn a hole, but I must carry the notebook around more than the phone.

This last weekend I was working in our back yard and got a bit wet at one point, with resulting damage to my previously pristine notebook:

It dried out OK so I’m continuing to use it. And the advantage of having used pencil in this notebook is that there were no issues with ink running.

Perhaps I will find more downsides to pocket notebooks as the years go by, but compared to the headaches I’ve had with smartphones over the same time span, old fashioned paper and pencil is remarkably robust.

Pet tragedy

Last Saturday we had a distressing accident with one of our baby rabbits. A plank of wood which held down the rain cover over one of our rabbit hutches fell down into the hutch and hit a little rabbit named ‘Oreo’ on the head. It was a severe impact, breaking her front teeth and causing concussion and some sort of injury to her nasal passages making it hard for her to breathe.

We took her to the vet and they gave her oxygen, pain relief, and kept her as comfortable as possible. Then it became a case of waiting to see if she improved or deteriorated. She remained in the vet clinic overnight and we were pleased she survived the night. Unfortunately the blow to her head must have caused major brain trauma and severe injury to her nose because she was still struggling to breathe, was partially paralysed on her right side and seemed to still be in a lot of pain.

Our vet considered her long term chances of survival to be low and the poor little rabbit was distressed so we made the hard but hopefully humane decision to euthanise her to avoid further suffering.

I find the decision to end the life of a pet to be difficult and haunting, the internal debate of whether it was the right choice remains with me for a long time. I’ve had to make that call for two dogs in the last five years and despite it being the rationally obvious decision in both cases I still feel terrible for making that choice for both of them.

I’m well aware that in nature survival is a constant struggle for all animals and their normal state of existence is probably what I would call suffering for a pet, but as  Christian I consider this a result of the Fall rather than the original plan for creation (see Isaiah 11:6-9).




2018 Reading

Updated: 13 March 2018

Currently Reading

These are the books I am reading right now:

  • 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. This is a good book. Every time I read from it I am inspired to spend time with God and read my Bible.
  • The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I have resisted this book for a long time, first I resisted even buying it because it seemed over hyped and I don’t particularly like how the author comes across on his podcast. Even after buying it for $4.99 on strong recommendation from people I respect, I’ve avoided reading it for over a year now. The book easy to read and follow but so far nothing particularly enlightening. Something I disagree with the author about is his stance that new information is useless if it is not immediately applied to something important. Learning is cumulative, and to think well we need to  know enough facts to form cohesive ideas about the world.
  • River of Blood (Tales of the Waiatoto) by John Breen. My Dad worked with and is good friends with the author of this book so I want to read it partly for that reason and also because it gives the history and lore of the Haast area of West Coast of the South Island.

Slow Reads

There are some books that I intentionally read slowly in order to let their message sink in or to enjoy the experience of digesting smaller morsels that are rich in meaning.

    • These Intricacies by Dave Harrity (ISBN 978-1-4982-3693-5)
    • Holy Bible (ESV)
    • Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett

The books I have read so far in 2018

This list is in the order that I read these books.

    1. The Freedom Diaries by Mark Holloway. 3/10 Finished 4 January 2018. (ISBN 978-0-473-25184-0)
    2. Big Blue Sky, a memoir by Peter Garrett. 8/10 Really enjoyed this book, well written and about someone I’ve long admired. He manages to make even politics interesting, though confirms that I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in that realm. The Midnight Oil Great Circle tour in 2017 is a fitting way for Peter Garrett to round out his career. Finished 18 January 2018. (ISBN 978-1-76063-274-8)
    3. Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. 7/10 Finished 22 January 2018. A well written and understandable book about global warming.
      The conclusions of this book are actually quite frightening, especially as we are seeing more extreme weather events every year.
    4. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. 7/10 Finished 22 January 2018. Written as a play/stage production, a format I personally dislike to read. However, the story is reasonably interesting and brings out some more elements of certain characters. (978-0-7515-6535-5)
    5. Breathless by Dean Koontz. 6/10 Finished 23 January 2018. An easy and enjoyable read but I found the story a bit disjointed jumping between seemingly unrelated plot lines which had an implied resolution but were not actually tied together by the conclusion of the book.  (ISBN 978-0-00-790986-5)
    6. Hearing God’s Voice by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby 6/10 Finished 25 January 2018. I enjoyed this book, practical and biblically based.
    7. Praying Hyde by Captain E.G. Carre. 6/10 I became interested to learn more about John Hyde while reading Hearing God’s Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby. Hyde was certainly an extraordinary man of prayer. Finished 27 January 2018.
    8. The White Notebook by André Gide. 4/10 I began reading this over a year ago and soon tired of the flowery, self obsessed writing. Finally finished it but not an enjoyable read. Finished 28 January 2018.
    9. A Victorian Naturalist, Beatrix Potter’s Drawings from the Armitt Collection by Eileen Jay, Mary Noble & Anne Stevenson Hobbs. 7/10 A magnificent book featuring impressive scientific illustrations of fungi by Beatrix Potter. Her cute animal stories are only the tip of her amazing talents as an artist. Finished 29 January 2018.
    10. Demonsouled by Jonathan Miller. 5/10 I felt like a light read over the weekend and picked this up free in the Kindle store. It fitted the purpose, not especially well written but not bad and the storyline was interesting enough to keep me reading. Finished 4 February 2018.
    11. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. 8/10 I loved this book. It is effectively a story about the love of reading and contained numerous reader idiosyncrasies that I could identify with. Kindle version. Finished 18 February 2018.
    12. Spark by Emma Neale Finished 21 February 2018. (see Poems I have read in 2018)
    13. Writing for the Web by Crawford Kilian. 6/10 Finished 23 February 2018. Picked up some useful tips and ideas of how to improve my writing. I will probably read this book again.
    14. Loved back to life by Sheila Walsh. 7/10 Finished 12 March 2018. My wife was reading this and had good things to say about it so I swiped it and read it myself. Reading this has caused me to think more about God and how depression has affected and been affected by my faith.


In the Pipeline

Books in my ‘to read’ pile. This stack tends to grow quicker than I can get through it.

  • The Loser by Peter Ustinov
  • The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky (ISBN 978-0-374-52617-7)
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (ISBN 978-0-15-672400-5)
  • Finally Alive by John Piper (ISBN 978-1-84550-421-2)
  • Shakespeare’s Tragedies
  • The Cross of Christ by John Stott (ISBN 978-0-8308-3320)
  • Mr Maui’s Monologues by Peter Bland (ISBN 978-1-877448-27-0)
  • 1 Samuel, Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis (ISBN 978-1-85792-516-6)
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (ISBN 978-0-00-735084-1)
  • How to Write a Poem by Tania Runyan (ISBN 978-1-943-12012-3)
  • Selected Poems by William Bronk (ISBN 0-8112-1314-5)

Inspiration for this page: Kevin Simler