Friday, August 26, 2016

Late-breaking story on the CBC

I know this has already been thoroughly commented on in many, many places, but I feel the need to post it here for the record:

The CBC's coverage of the Tragically Hip's final concert was an outstanding example of our public broadcaster meeting the needs of Canadians.

We had a need that could be met with a television broadcast.  But, at the same time, this need was not super compatible with the conventions of television broadcasting.  The format required it to be commercial-free, despite the fact that it was in prime time and had a huge number of viewers.  And it happened to be during the Olympics, for which the CBC held broadcasting rights.  It was of unpredictable duration.  The content would likely contain some swear words.  Canadians abroad needed to be able to see it just as much as Canadians at home.

And the CBC overcame all these obstacles to make it happen, prioritizing the needs of Canadians rather than bureaucratic or penny-pinching requirements or the need to put commercials in front of eyeballs.  They could just as easily (actually, far more easily) have shrugged their shoulders and said "Sorry, we're committed to the Olympics", or "Well, we have to run commercials to earn our keep," or "You can't say 'fuck' on television!" or "Broadcast only available in Canada" and we wouldn't even have noticed. But instead they stepped up, figured out a way to make it work, and served a huge number of Canadians - more than twice the number of Canadians who voted for the winning party in any election in my lifetime!

Many people noticed and appreciated this, and I hope that creates and sustains the political will to give the CBC the resources it needs to keep meeting our needs in the future, even when they don't correspond tidily with the conventions of broadcasting.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New rule: don't hold a glass door open unless your hand is on the handle

Glass door with vertical handle
Many of the doors I pass through in my day-to-day life are made of glass with a single vertical handle on the side opposite the hinge, like in the image to the right (click to embiggen).

Often, as with other kinds of doors, the person in front of me will try to hold the door for me even after they've taken their hand off the handle, by putting their hand on the glass part of the door.

The problem with that is it leaves fingerprints on the door, which some poor cleaning person will have to clean off!

Barring extenuating circumstances, cleaning fingerprints off glass is far harder than opening a door! By holding open the door with your hand on the glass, you're making a net negative contribution to other people's ease and comfort, not a net positive contribution.

Therefore, I propose that putting one's hand on the glass of the door should be considered rude, and doing so in the course of holding it open for someone who is perfectly capable of holding it open themselves should not be considered polite enough to outweigh the rudeness.

(Holding the door for someone who is genuinely unable to open the door because their hands or full or they're not strong enough or something is polite enough to outweigh the rudeness, but we should nevertheless endeavour not to touch the glass.)

And if you really feel that you would be perceived as rude if you're not seen holding the door open for someone, all you have to do is keep your hand on the handle for as long as possible as you walk through, ending with your arm stretched out all the way (and perhaps looking expectantly back), like this gentleman.

(Although the optimal way is still to be completely on the outside of the door, like this gentleman.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another analogy for being incapable of faith

Some clever internet person once said atheism is a religion like not playing golf is a sport.

As I've blogged about before, I'm an atheist because I'm congenitally incapable of religious faith. Today my shower tweaked this analogy to apply to the kind of atheism that results from congenitally incapable of faith.

Think about Olympic weight-lifting, where they have those ridiculously huge weights and lift them over their heads while making an enormous amount of noise.

Imagine you can't lift those weights. Even if you take them apart, you can't lift the individual components.  Furthermore, you were raised to think that being able to lift the weights was morally imperative, so you spent several years diligently engaged in a regime that, to the best of the knowledge available, would maximize your chances of being able to lift the weights.  But you never developed the ability to lift the weights.

So, atheism is a religion like not being able to lift the weights is a sport.

And faking religion despite being an atheist would be like claiming to be a weight-lifter, talking loudly about your training regime, making sure you're seen at the gym, but still not being able to lift the weights.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How did the logistics of money work back when money only existed tangibly?

I watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones recently (don't think I'm going to continue - the gory parts visit me in my dreams - so you don't have to worry about spoiling me), and I found myself wondering how the logistics of money worked in that era.

(I know Game of Thrones isn't actually a historical era, but there would have been a period of time when money worked similarly in real-life history.)

At various points in the story, wealthy characters go on extremely long journeys. Sometimes during these journeys they need to spend money on things, and sometimes not all these expenses are anticipated. For example, at one point, a character invites another character to travel with him and offers to pay his way.  At another point, a character who has temporarily relocated to the king's castle while leaving most of his household at home in his own castle hires a swordfighting instructor for his daughter, even though, when he left home, he didn't know this would be a necessity.

Since they didn't have bank accounts or the ability to wire money, their money was actual coins, or perhaps jewels and other valuables.  So if they're away from home (where, presumably, their actual tangible money lives), they have to take some coins with them to cover their expenses during the journey.

But what if they misestimate their expenses and run out of the coins that they brought with them, but still have plenty of money at home in their keep or vault or Scrooge McDuck-style money room or wherever it was they'd keep their wealth?  Was there some for them to get more money other than sending a runner for it?  (If so, were there occasionally fraudulent runners coming to castles where the lord was away and saying they'd been sent by the lord to bring him 1000 gold coins?) Or did nobility occasionally get stranded on their journeys because they didn't bring enough coins with them?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The tale of the door-opening hypocrite

I was heading into my building just as two older gentlemen were heading out. Our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time, so I picked up my pace a touch so I could get there first, figuring that if I'm the one who unlocks the door, they won't have to make the choice between politeness (i.e. opening the door for me) and building security (i.e. letting me in without knowing whether I'm authorized.)  As I pass them, I hear one of the men say to the other "In the old days, girls would let you be a gentleman and open the door for them!" Meh, whatever. I don't owe him an explanation, so I just proceed as though I haven't heard him.

A couple of days latter, I'm once again heading into the building and the man who made that comment is once again heading out. This time he's accompanied by a small child, and, once again, our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time. But then the child starts running to push the wheelchair button before I get to the door. So I slow my pace a touch to let the kid get to the button first, figuring the man has already seen me unlocking the door and knowing that pressing the button will probably make the kid's day.  Then the man calls for the kid to stop, so I let myself in. To my surprise, as I'm walking past them, I hear him explaining to the kid how you shouldn't press the button if someone's coming in because you don't know if they live in the building or not.

It's interesting to me that this gentleman felt the need to either fake wanting to let me in for the benefit of his gentleman friend or to fake not wanting to let me in for the benefit of the child.  And I can't even tell which one was real and which one was fake.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Analogy for explaining the joke

I previously blogged about how humour is like sex.

Building on that:

Some people, when they attempt to tell a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, start explaining the alleged joke. As though it's not possible that the alleged joke wasn't funny, and the only possible explanation is that the audience didn't understand it.

That's like trying out a move you read about on the internet and then, when it doesn't work, earnestly explaining to your partner how the internet told you that's where the g-spot is supposed to be.

No matter how solid your theory is, the fact of the matter is it didn't hit the spot. And explaining it isn't going to induce the desired pleasure.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ad-supported media should never have worked in the first place

There's been a lot of media talk recently about how declining advertising revenues put various media outlets and websites at risk and how websites especially are taking extraordinary efforts to get ads in front of people who don't want to see them.

And in all of this, it occurs to me: it's bizarre that ad-supported media has lasted this long in the first place!

I can see why a business might consider spending a certain amount of money to make potential customers aware of it. And I can see why a media outlet might consider offering paid placements.

But it doesn't even make sense that businesses would be willing to spend so much on advertising that it supports the existence of entire media outlets, to the point of being their primary or only source of revenue!

Think about all the ads you're exposed to in a day. How many do you even notice?  (If you're like me, you're not even looking at the parts of the newspaper pages where they put the ads, or going to the bathroom during commercial breaks.) Of these, how many do you pay attention do? Of these, how many affect your purchasing decisions? Maybe a handful over a lifetime, compared with the dozens (hundreds?) you're exposed to every day.

How is that worth businesses' while to pay for?

The decline of the advertising model is a market correction. Something that never made sense in the first place is ceasing to function. Yes, it's inconvenient, but it was inevitable, long before the dawn of the internet or of ad blockers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why do some plugs and cables wear out?

My earbuds stop working every few months. First one ear goes, then both of them.  It seems to happen whether I buy them cheap or mid-range. (Haven't tried expensive ones myself, but other people have told me they wear out too.)  This has been happening since I was a teenager using them to listen to a walkman, and it continues at the same rate even now that I work from home (which is relevant because I use my earbuds for far fewer hours a day and they also spend much less time being knocked around in my purse.)

The Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter that I use to connect my external monitor to my computer wears out every couple of years. First the image doesn't always appear on the external monitor when I close the computer lid (I have to open the lid to get to the power button), then it starts taking multiple unplugs and replugs for the image to show up on the external monitor, then the monitor starts blinking out at random times, and finally it does this weird thing where the whole computer freezes when I try to switch to the monitor.  Then I get a new adapter, and everything goes back to normal.

I had the same problem with the cable that connected my cellphone to my computer, back when such a thing was possible. It would just stop working every few months.

Why does this happen?  These things are basically just plugs and wires. What exactly would cause them to stop functioning?

And why doesn't it happen with things like kettles and toasters and lamps, which also have plugs and wires?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Things They Should Invent: plane crash edition

Reading this article about people who want to take their luggage with them when evacuating plane crashes gives me ideas for a couple of inventions.

1. Public awareness of what happens to plane crash survivors

When later asked to explain their actions, most passengers cited a desire to rescue their money, wallets or credit cards. 
You can see how a person would get there. The idea of being stuck somewhere, maybe in a foreign country, without money, ID or credit cards is scary. So they need a public awareness campaign of what measures are in place to help plane crash survivors in the immediate aftermath and days following. How do they get the medical care they need without their health card or insurance information? What's their legal status if they're in a foreign country but have lost their passport in the plane crash? How do they get home without money or credit cards, and how do they get food and shelter and replacement clothing in the interim? How do they get back into their home country without ID?

There have been enough plane crashes over the years that it seems like there should be a protocol in place for these things. If there is, they should let us know how it works. If there isn't, they should make one and then let us know how it works.

2. Fireproof luggage

The motivation for wanting to take your carry-on bag when evacuating an airplane is that you don't want to lose the contents. Even if insurance gives you money to replace it, you can't just go and buy the teddy bear who's been with you since you were a baby or the discontinued underwear you haven't yet found a comfortable replacement for.

But imagine if the bag was fireproof. You leave it behind, the inferno burns around it, and after the fire has been put out everyone's luggage can be retrieved. You're deprived of your essentials for a few hours, not for the whole rest of your life.

There are fireproof/fire-resistant materials used for firefighters' and astronauts' protective gear, and I'm sure there are other fireproof things in the world of which I'm not even aware. Perhaps that would be a good starting point.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Emotional labour braindump

I've recently been reading this epic MetaFilter thread about emotional labour, and it's been very educational and made me realize quite a number of things, some of which I'm braindumping here and others of which will need to be their own posts.

The thread uses a very broad definition of emotional labour, and I find that broad definition useful so I'm using it too. Things that are perhaps on the periphery of the scope of emotional labour (like housework) are actually things that I have the same relationship with as I do with things that are universally agreed upon as emotional labour, so if it's in my blog post, it counts!

- I am terrible at emotional labour and, at the same time, I greatly value it in others. My absolute relationship fantasy is someone who would take care of 100% of the emotional labour in the relationship. I'd gladly do literally everything else in exchange for emotional labour. But, obviously, that would never work out. Even if it could work as an emotional dynamic, someone who is that giving and awesome could do way better than me.

- The specific way in that I'm bad at emotional labour is that I don't see the opportunities. My brain just doesn't make the necessary connections. I'm the person sitting at the table not realizing people have started clearing the table until it's too late for me to help. At a family gathering where everyone but me was helping clean up, I could see that I should be doing something helpful, but didn't see what to do. So, being the mature and competent adult I am, I asked my mother. She stopped what she was doing, looked around, and told me to put empty pop cans in the recycling and empty disposable cups in the garbage. I literally did not see that a task that needs doing is putting the garbage in the garbage!

- I want to be better at emotional labour because it's something I want to be able to do for people I care about. (And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that my poor emotional labour skills are the reason why I'm unmarriageable.) But when I try to do it proactively, I just end up doing things that aren't helpful and are probably intrusive or disruptive and people are staring at me like WTF are you doing?  Best case, they say thank you to close the matter but don't actually mean it.

- However, the fact that I'm terrible at emotional labour also means I don't get stuck doing it for people I don't care about. I don't get sucked into keeping up appearances or organizing office social events or playing cruise director or who knows what else because I simply can't see what might hypothetically need to be done, the same way I couldn't see the garbage that needed to be put in the garbage.

- I've been wondering over the years why I don't really end up with users or emotional vampires in my life, and I think this might be why - I literally can't give them what they need!

- One of the kinds of emotional labour described in the thread that I actually do is sending greeting cards. But I don't do it for the right reasons. I don't do it because the recipients will appreciate it - I can't tell whether or not they actually appreciate it. I do it because it's the sort of thing I appreciate - I love getting mail! I'm doing unto others, but, as I've mentioned before, my Do Unto Others often doesn't work. I can't figure out how to do the actual emotional labour, so I'm doing a simulacrum of it.

- This also made me realize that emotional labour is one of the reasons why I'm So Done with people who are politically incompatible. It's a combination of the labour I have to do and the labour that they're failing to do. When they start advocating for policies that hurt people, I have to decide whether to speak up (and make the conversation less pleasant) or let it slide (and leave them with the impression that their position is objectively okay and that I think their position is okay). I have to read whether they are a person who can be swayed with information or whether they'll just take that as an invitation to argue. And I have to do the work of changing the subject to something that would be pleasant for everyone to talk about, despite the politically incompatible person's efforts to stay on their chosen topic. And this is because they're not doing the work of finding and sticking to topics that everyone would enjoy discussing. There are people who don't think politics should make a difference in social interactions and would say that you shouldn't let politics stand in the way getting to know someone who could be an awesome person, but I already have plenty of awesome people in my life who don't require that work.

- Most of what I dislike about being single is the absence of a certain individual, not the absence of a theoretical partner. But the one exception is I dislike not having a default person. When I need a person, I have to ask around and find someone who is willing to go out of their way for me. My people are awesome so I've never not found a person (and I'd say about 80% of the time the first person I ask says yes), but I still have to ask. Can you walk with me to the subway and let me text you when I get home? (Whereas if I had a partner they would be coming home with me.) Can you come over here whenever you have a moment and help me move the thing I can't lift myself? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just ask them the grab the other end of this.) Can you buy me that one thing I need for my phobias but can't buy myself because of my phobias? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just add it to the shopping list next time they're doing errands.)  I always have to ask.  So, as I read about emotional labour, I realize that maybe I wouldn't have to ask when I need a person if I knew how to be a person well enough to do the emotional labour so my partner wouldn't have to ask.

But, despite this realization, I can't just fake it like I did with Entitlement, because the whole problem is I don't see the things that need doing.

However, despite all that, emotional labour is not something I want to learn to so do I can make people like me. It's something I want to learn to to for people who already like me for the person I already am.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books read in July 2016


1. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
2. The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time by Jonathan Kozol
3. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
4. Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-sung, translated by Shirley Lee


1. Calculated in Death
2. Thankless in Death
3. Taken in Death
4. Concealed in Death
5. Festive in Death

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The age when you stop being intrinsically interesting

I was looking at this 30-second YouTube video of a toddler ring bearer who was reluctant to walk all the way to the altar and his innovative way of solving that problem:

Some of the comments were to the effect of "What do you expect choosing such a little kid to be your ring bearer?" as though the wedding couple is disappointed that they didn't get flawless textbook ring bearing.

My extended family is currently full of weddings and toddlers, and extrapolating from this I realize that they didn't choose that kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted flawless textbook ring bearing.  The chose the kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted to see what would happen if they put him in a little suit and gave him a ring pillow and told him to walk down the aisle.  Maybe he'd do something cute or interesting - and he did!

When children are very small, they are intrinsically interesting that way, at least to people who care about them.  It's interesting to see what they'll do in a new situation, how they'll react to new input, etc. That's why friends and family members and co-workers will hand their new baby to my childfree self - to see how we react to each other. That's why adults like to show small children animals and toys and mirrors and bubbles - to see what they do.

And then there must be some age, I'm not sure exactly how old, when a kid's reactions stop being intrinsically interesting, and the adults want them to sit down and be quiet, and they'd get in trouble for throwing the ring pillow.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Interpersonal interaction of the day

As I've mentioned before, one of the many things I dislike about myself is that I'm not (and can't seem to get) knowledgeable enough about how to treat people with disabilities. (At this point, some people will say "Like a person." This doesn't help for reasons that I will get into momentarily.)  I can't always tell when they need help or when they've got this. I can't tell when to offer help or when to wait to be asked. If the lady in the wheelchair drops something, can she pick it up herself or does she need help? When giving directions to someone who's using a white cane but wearing glasses, can I point or give visual cues (e.g. turn left at the big green sign?)

When I do my best, I sometimes fuck up, like the time I eagerly scurried to open a door for a lady with a cane and almost caused her to fall down, because she needed to hold onto the door handle for support. 

When I try to educate myself, I just end up feeling even less certain. For example, I saw some kind of awareness campaign saying that some people who use wheelchairs can walk. So when I overhear the couple in the wheelchairs saying "There it is on the top shelf," should I interrupt and offer to grab it for them, or can they get it themselves?  How do I tell?

I don't want to make people with disabilities do the extra work of having to ask for help, or do the extra work of having their day and train of thought interrupted to fend off unnecessary offers of help. And I hate the fact that I'm not good enough at being a person to tell, and thereby impose extra work on people for whom the simple act of going to the grocery store is more work than it is for me.

So with all this as background, I had an extremely interesting interaction in the grocery store today.  Behind me in line was an older lady in wheelchair who spoke broken English with a thick accent.  As I'm telling the cashier that yes I would like bags and try to balance the weight if you can and I have coupons and air miles, I see out of the corner of my eye that the lady in the wheelchair has dropped a bag.

Before I'd even had time to mentally debate whether I should retrieve it for her or see if she can get it for herself, she snaps her fingers and says "Hey!" to me. When I turn to look at her, she points to the bag that fell and says "Get that for me?" I promptly pick it up for her, she says thank you, and I go back to dealing with the cashier.  Shortly afterwards the bag falls again, she snaps her fingers, says "Hey!" to get my attention, and points to the bag again.  I retrieve it with a joke about how it really doesn't want to go home with her, we laugh, and I finish my transaction.

If I'd been reading this story in someone else's blog, the lady's actions would have sounded imperious and arrogant to me. But the dynamic IRL was that she was answering my unasked questions about what I should do (and thereby attending to my emotional needs). Her immediate reaction (rather than waiting to see if I'd react) and clear call for my attention spared me the debate about whether to get involved, so I had the positive feelings that come with helping the lady in the wheelchair rather than the uncertain feelings that I usually have in this situation.

Of course, I'm sure a huge part of the reason why this lady didn't sound imperious and arrogant was that I held all the privilege in the situation. It could very likely have read differently if I'd been young enough that she held the age privilege, or if she'd been white and I'd been non-white, or if she'd spoken the same generic Canadian English as I do, or perhaps even if she'd been male.

But, somehow, she read the convergence of factors right and managed, even in this unconventional way, to give me the information I needed and facilitate the interaction so we both left with our goals achieved.

Of course, none of this should be necessary. In an ideal world, I'd know how to be a person well enough that I wouldn't have to look to the less privileged person in the interaction for guidance. But since the reality of this specific situation is that my incompetent self was the person we were stuck with, I admire and laud this lady for handling the situation with such aplomb. It doesn't sound like something that should work, but it worked beautifully!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Brilliant Ideas that will Never Work: murder-proof knife

While writing my previous blog post, I came up with an idea for a knife that can't be used as a murder weapon.

If the blade of the knife touches something that is approximately 37 degrees celsius (i.e. the temperature of the human body), the blade retracts, making it impossible to use it to cut or stab anything.

We already have thermometers with protruding metal probes that detect the temperature of the thing they're touching (e.g. meat thermometers). We already have switches that switch on and off when the thermometer they're attached to crosses a certain threshold (i.e. thermostats). We already have knives with blades that retract. So combine all this technology to make a knife whose blade retracts when it touches something at a temperature near 37 degrees.

Food shouldn't be near 37 degrees, at least not for any significant amount of time.  It should either be stored below 4 degrees or cooked above 60 degrees. If the food you're trying to prepare is 37 degrees, it needs to be either heated up or cooled down.

If you're using the knife for something other than food preparation, the thing you're cutting is probably room temperature.  Room temperature is about 20 degrees, and 37 degrees is uncomfortably hot for ambient temperature. If the ambient temperature is 37 degrees, you really should move to somewhere cooler before you get heatstroke.

I don't deny the possibility that there might be some specialized activities beyond the scope of my imagination that legitimately require the use of a knife at 37 degrees celsius. And they can use a specialized, non-murder-proof knife for those specialized activities. But for ordinary household use, knives could be made murder-proof.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

US gun money braindump

With the various US shootings in the news and a constant flow of information about how gun industry money is influencing US politics, my shower gave me the early foundations of an idea to disrupt the cycle.

I know I'm a foreigner and therefore this isn't my business at all, but it is an idea I haven't seen elsewhere, so I'm posting it in case it's useful to anyone.

We know that the pro-gun people's argument for having guns is that they need them for self-defence and/or they're used for perfectly valid sporting pursuits.

We know that there's a lot of firearm manufacturer money spent lobbying against any restrictions on owning or acquiring firearms.

My first idea to disrupt this was to make firearm manufacturers pay a fine whenever a product they make is used as a murder weapon.  This is intended to disincentivize manufacturers from lobbying against firearms restrictions, and possibly incentivize them to produce products that make mass murder less easy.

But, because of all this lobbying money, any law specifically targeting firearm manufacturers is unlikely to pass.

So my next idea was to be big and bold: all manufacturers of all products must pay a fine whenever a product they manufacture is used as a murder weapon.

Q: But wouldn't this result in all kinds of harm to all kinds of random businesses (many of whose products are far more vital and far less profitable than firearms)?

A: To mitigate that, I propose a progressive fine structure.  The fine to be paid is a percentage of the company's revenues (not profits, because those can be hidden with accounting).  It starts out as an extremely small percentage (like 0.01%), and that percentage increases (perhaps even doubles) with every subsequent murder. (I can make an argument for the percentage increasing every time there's a murder with any of the company's products, or for each individual product having its own tally.)  So if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and one very resourceful person comes up with a way to murder someone using a tube of mascara, you have to pay a tiny fine. But if you're a manufacturer of firearms or ammunition and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble.  (And, of course if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble too.)

Q: But why are you just focusing on murder? All kinds of people are shot in alleged self-defence or in accidents too, not to mention all the people who are injured, some of them seriously!

A: All these things are important too, and I have no objection to including them if it can be made workable. My thinking in focusing on murder is that it's far more difficult to argue with. By making policy that focuses strictly on murder weapons, you're not questioning the go-to arguments of self-defence or culturally-considered-legitimate sporting pursuits. You're not trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens or regular folks.  You are, in fact, agreeing with all the standard arguments about why guns should be allowed. It's just the bizarre, exceptional case of murderers that you're addressing - people who use the guns for the express purpose of going out to kill people.

Q: Wouldn't the focus on murder make people (perhaps with firearm-industry-provided lawyers) attempt to defend themselves with claims of self-defence or accidents?

A: Since murder is already a separate crime with a more severe sentence, people are already incentivized to do that. I don't know whether or not extra lawyering could make a difference.

Q: Why manufacturers? Why not retailers?

A: I have no objection to including retailers too. I'm focusing on manufacturers because I have the impression that that's where the lobbying money is coming from.

Q: So what do you expect manufacturers to actually do?

A: Primarily, to stop lobbying against various proposed legislation intended to stop guns from getting into the hands of dangerous people.

But they could perhaps also stop manufacturing guns that make it so easy to kill so many people.  For example, they could make guns that fire fewer rounds per minute, or that require the user to squeeze the trigger each time they want to fire a round rather than holding it down. I've seen mentions of certain types of ammunition being more lethal than others, so ammunition manufacturers could probably use that information to make ammunition that's less lethal. Perhaps they might also have the option of providing their products wholesale only to retailers with stricter security checks.

And, of course, they always have the option of doing nothing and bearing the risk of a massive fine that would put them out of business if someone should choose to use their products for mass murder.

Q: And what about manufacturers of other products who get caught up in this? What do you expect them to actually do?

A: If their products are being used as murder weapons on the same order of magnitude as guns, perhaps it would be a good thing for them to be incentivized to make these products less lethal!

Q: Might this disincentivize foreign companies from making their products available in the US?

A: It might, I don't know. Maybe if it does, and maybe if there's enough demand for the product in question, it could also boost the US manufacturing sector.

Q: And how do you propose getting this kind of legislation introduced when it's so obviously targeting firearms?

A: Wait until someone is murdered with an ordinary object that isn't intended as a weapon. Sensationalize the situation in the media, cite other historical cases of people being murdered with ordinary household objects that aren't intended as a weapon, and make it sound vitally important to introduce safety measures so ordinary household objects can't be used as murder weapons. Don't mention firearms at all.  Cars have had more and more safety measures introduced over the years, at least some of which have been required by law. Use the same spirit for everything, but without (at least initially) presuming to dictate what exactly the safety measures should be.  This is a country that managed to ban Kinder Eggs FFS - surely they can pass some anti-murder-weapon legislation if no one mentions the G word.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things They Should Study: what would election outcomes look like if votes were weighted by how much people are affected?

I've occasionally seen people say they're voting for various buffoonish political candidates for amusement purposes, because they want to see what shenanigans that candidate will get up to next.

When I hear this, I think what a privileged position these people must be in, to be so unaffected by politics that they can vote solely on the grounds of amusement.

In the shower one day, I had the idea of discouraging those who are so completely unaffected by politics from voting, which evolved into a series of other idea of giving extra votes to people who are more affected, or weighting votes by how affected people are.

Of course, this is all completely unfeasible in reality, and I'm in no way arguing or hinting that it should actually be done.  Voting is a capital-R Right, and it would be wholly inappropriate to argue for reducing some people's rights because they're thought to need them less. (That's the stated reasoning oppressors used to prevent people from having voting rights in the first place.)

But it would be super interesting to study as a what-if scenario.  What would the outcomes of elections look like if people's votes were weighted by how greatly they're affected by the policies of that level of government?

Another problem would be that weighing how greatly people are affected is highly subjective, with different people having different opinions about which factors should be weighted most heavily.  But since this is a what-if scenario anyway, why not calculate the outcome for every arguable definition of "greatly affected"?  What would election outcomes look like if people's votes were weighted by how much taxes the government's policies would cost them or save them? What if votes were weighted by how much people's employment and livelihood were affected? What if it they were weighted by how dependent you are on that government's policies for health care, or education, or transportation?

It might also be possible in certain cases to determine if there is a subset of people who are voting "wrong", by which I mean that the thing that affects them the most is the accessibility of widgets, but they're voting for the party that's trying to ban widgets. (Which would get into the question of whether they're voting "wrong" on purpose for selfless purposes because they believe other issues are more important than access to widgets, or if they're voting "wrong" out of ignorance.)

In any case, it would be terribly interesting to study as a "what if?", and might also end up being somehow informative. But it would have to be done in a way that makes it clear that weighting votes isn't something that actually should  be done.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition XI

16. Some people seem to be under the impression that people can choose their feelings. They then go and give advice to others on that assumption.

I suppose it might be possible that some people can choose their feelings, but not everyone can. So advice to choose to feel a certain way is completely useless to someone who can't choose their feelings.

Therefore, people who give advice on the assumption that everyone can choose their feelings to people who can't choose their feelings lose the ability to choose their feelings until the issue on which they were giving advice is solved. Sentences to be served consecutively.

Actually, let's extend this: anyone who gives advice that assumes that the advisee has skills or resources that they don't actually have is denied use of those skills or resources (or their own equivalent) until such time as the issue is solved. Sentences to be served consecutively.

If the advisor acknowledges in their advice that the advisee may not actually have the skills or  resources and they're just throwing out ideas until something sticks, that's fine, no consequences necessary. But if the advisor takes as a given that the advisee clearly has those things and doesn't even consider the possibility that they aren't available, the advisor is denied the use of those things or their equivalent in the advisor's own life.

For example: "Does your university have a student health clinic? If they do, that would probably be a good starting point" is acceptable.

But if you say "Just go to the student health clinic!" when the advisee's university doesn't have one, you are not allowed access to your primary medical care until the advisee's health issue is resolved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things I did invent!

For years and years, I've been telling the universe to invent things for me. This week I shut up and invented the things for myself!

1. Since I discovered the Toronto Fire Active Incidents page years ago, I've gotten in the habit of checking it whenever I hear a siren, just to see what's going on. However, not all sirens are the fire department.  So I was going to write a Things They Should Invent that someone should merge the Toronto Fire Calls map and the Toronto Police Calls map (as well as ambulance data, if it is available) into a single "What's that siren?" map.

Making a map isn't in my immediate skill set, but people who are smarter than I am have already turned these data streams into twitter feeds. So I made my very first twitter list, which shows all police and fire calls in near-real time (there's about a 5 minute delay). So now when I hear a siren, I just pull up my list and within moments the answer to my question will appear.

(Although if anyone is feeling ambitious or creative, I still think a map would be a better interface).

2. There was some visible sediment in the reservoir of my coffee maker.  Neither running vinegar through the machine nor rinsing it out would budge it, so I figured it needed to be scrubbed. Unfortunately, since it's only a 4-cup coffee maker, the reservoir is small enough that I can just barely get my hand in and couldn't move it around in the way I needed to to scrub the sediment. A bottle brush wasn't soft enough, and that sponge-on-a-stick thing that's like a bottle brush but with a sponge was too bulky. I thought a q-tip would be about the right size and texture, but I couldn't get my hand in properly to manipulate it the way it needed to be manipulated.

I was going to write a Things They Should Invent of extra-long q-tips for these kinds of cleaning challenges, but then I had an inspiration:

I took a cotton ball (the kind you use to remove makeup or nail polish), stuck it on the end of a fork like it's a meatball, and used that to scrub the inside of the coffee maker reservoir.  The cotton was the right texture, the fork gives it the kind of stiff support you need for scrubbing, and the fork was long enough that I could manipulate the movements of the cotton fully because my hand could be outside the reservoir. The whole thing was perfectly clean in about 20 seconds!

I've never before been able to actually make one of my Things They Should Invent, and this week I made two in one week!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

How to make a manual for new homes

I previously came up with the idea that developers should provide a user manual for new homes.  Today my shower gave me an idea for how that could be achieved effectively.

First of all, the manual wouldn't be an actual static manual, it would be a constantly-updated website, perhaps with a login to limit it to residents of the development if such a thing is thought to be necessary.

Homeowners are asked to report any problems they have to the developer, and the developer will provide free repairs/resolutions/instructions on preventive maintenance required to the first person to report each problem in exchange for being permitted to document it for the manual. 

The homeowner's privacy is protected throughout the process.  While the repair is photographed and videoed so the process can be fully documented, the homeowner doesn't appear in the photos or videos, and the homeowner can remove any identifying items and tidy the area before the documentation people come in.

Since only the first person to report the problem gets the free resolution, the cost to the developer wouldn't be very much, relatively speaking. It would be no more than the total maintenance cost of one unit over its lifetime (minus any repeated maintenance activities), and would probably turn out to be less because not all homeowners would be interested in participating and it's possible that no one would bother to call the developer for certain very basic maintenance activities (e.g. changing a lightbulb).  Given that each development has many units (my condo has nearly 400), and that developers tend to make multiple similar developments (many aspects of my condo operate the same as my apartment, which was built by the same developer), this is negligible compared with the number of customers served.

On top of that, to properly document a procedure with photos and videos you have to actually carry out the procedure.  So developing the manual this way wouldn't cost anything more than staging it for the cameras, and would save the time and effort of planning what should go into the manual, because the natural course of the homeowners' maintenance problems would make that decision for them.

This would be an excellent way for a developer to make customers feel like they're being taken care of, and would make that developer particularly attractive to first-time buyers who are perfectly positioned to start developing brand loyalty.