Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if they had completely separate hospitals for infectious and non-infectious patients?

One of the risks of going to a hospital is that you might pick up a hospital-acquired infection, like MRSA or C. Diff.

At the root, there are a lot of infections in hospitals because many patients are infectious.

But there are also many patients who aren't infectious at all. For example, if you're in the hospital for surgery or chemotherapy to have a broken bone set or to give birth, you don't present any risk of contagion to others - but contagion may present a greater-than-usual risk to you.

So what if they had completely separate hospitals for contagious and non-contagious patients?  Different buildings, different doctors and nurses, never the twain shall meet.

Apart from money, is there any reason for not doing this? The only thing I can think of is that a certain subset of patients may or may not be infectious, and we don't know yet.  (I can think of several potential ways to handle that, but that's probably something better left to medical professionals.)  However, at the same time, there are also patients who are definitely not contagious - the surgeries and broken bones and childbirth that I mentioned above.  Is there any medical or non-money-related logistical reason not to keep them separate?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Books read in November 2017


1. À la recherche du bout du monde by Michel Noël
2. The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew


1. Promises in Death

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Stuff You've Already Tried filter

On my old computer, I had to do a clean reinstall of Firefox. A couple of issues subsequently cropped up, and when I googled around the new issues, I kept finding advice to do a clean reinstall. That's what caused the issues in the first place!  (With the combination of the new computer and the new version of Firefox, the issues are now moot.)

When my old computer died, it simply wouldn't power up. Pressing the power button had exactly the same result as not pressing the power button. The troubleshooting of first resort in this case is a power reset: unplug the computer, remove the battery, hold down the power button for about 30 seconds to drain any residual electrical charge, then plug in the power adapter only and try again.

I tried that several times, and it didn't work.

And my attempts to google for the next steps in troubleshooting were stymied by interference from instructions for a power reset. I found a single reference to replacing the CMOS battery (haven't tried that yet because the age of the computer and the low likelihood of success made me prioritize getting a new computer), but, even with my advanced google-fu (and trying other search engines as well), I couldn't get away from the pervasive suggestion of a power reset to the rest of whatever the appropriate troubleshooting protocol would be.

Our internet usage patterns are increasingly being spied on. Couldn't they at least make use of this data to give us the option of filtering out the stuff we've already tried.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The final score in the laptop battery management match-up

I bought my laptop in December 2010, and started indiscriminately plugging it in whenever possible, without regard for any battery management strategy. The battery stopped working in April 2013, for a total of 2 years and 4 months.

Then I started putting the laptop in airplane mode whenever it was plugged in, and completely draining and recharging the battery on the rare occasions when I needed to work from battery. The laptop lived until November 2017, for a total of 4 years and 7 months.

Shortly before the laptop died, the battery status said something to the effect that my battery wasn't working at top performance and it was time to get a new one, although I could keep using this one for as long as it lasted. (I don't have the exact message.) It didn't display this message before the previous battery suddenly stopped working. (I noticed there was a problem because the battery light was suddenly blinking orange.) I currently don't know whether the battery had anything to do with why the laptop stopped working.

Therefore, based on my one-person study, airplane mode is better for laptop batteries (at least the kinds of batteries computers used in 2010) than leaving it plugged in indiscriminately.

Note that this is the exact opposite of what all Dell online support said, but consistent with what every in-person tech said.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

More benefits of using mitigative language when editing

Seen on Twitter: this thread about using mitigative language rather than assertive language in the editing process:

In addition to the excellent points here about face, a few things occurred to me specifically about the nature of editing/revision in translation. (They may also apply to unilingual editing, but my experience in that area is far more limited.)

1. Some edits are objective and some edits are subjective

"This word is spelled wrong" is objective. "The alliteration in this sentence sounds silly" is subjective. By using mitigative language for subjective edits, you're making it clear that your objective edits are objectively necessary - and thereby increasing their credibility. If you're too aggressive about your subjective edits, you come across as someone who makes mostly arbitrary changes.

2. Sometimes the editor-as-reader's thoughts and feelings are what's relevant

In translation school, they taught us that if one reader gets a certain impression from a text, others will as well.  This also applies to the editor as they are reading the text. If the editor says something like "I initially thought the word "drink" was a noun, not a verb, and got very confused," or "I felt like the author was speaking to me condescendingly here," what is relevant is that the editor-as-reader had that reaction. What caused that reaction? Can we - and should we - eliminate the cause of that reaction? Which brings us to...

3. We don't want to get caught up in debating the objective truth at the expense of subjective improvements

I can best illustrate this with a story about user-testing a website design.

My task was to find a specific widget and put it in the cart as though I was going to buy it.  I first skimmed the website for something to click on that said "Widgets", but didn't find anything.  Ultimately, it took me four tries to find the right route.

During the fourth try, I scrolled down further than previously to see the bottom of the sidebar menu, and discovered that there was in fact a button that said "Widgets". However, there was a banner-like design element above that set of buttons that led me to think there wouldn't be any more relevant information below.

So my feedback was: "I was looking for something to click on that said "Widgets", and didn't see anything.  I didn't scroll down as far as the rectangular buttons because I got the impression that the banner above them was a placeholder and I didn't think there'd be any buttons below it. To fix this, I would suggest deleting the banner entirely. If that's not possible, perhaps consider moving it it below the buttons so the presence of the buttons is readily apparent."

Quite mitigative, not at all assertive, and effective feedback. The banner was promptly removed in response.

But imagine if I'd been assertive and non-mitigative, as though my perception were the objective truth.

Me: "There isn't anything that says Widgets."
Website designer: "Yes there is. See?"

I'd be wrong - there was a Widgets button. And because I'm outright wrong, the website designer's gut instinct would be to prove that I'm wrong and disregard my feedback on the grounds that I clearly don't know what I'm talking about.

Similarly, in the example given in #2 above, if, instead of "I felt like the author was speaking to me condescendingly here," you assertively say "This is too condescending," the author's visceral reaction could be "No, it's not condescending at all."  And then you're caught up in arguing over whether it's condescending, rather than determining (and, if necessary, fixing) what gave you that impression.

Your goal in editing and/or revising is not to win, but to make the text as good as possible. Conveying the nuances of your response to the text helps achieve that goal. Trying to be assertive takes the focus away from that goal.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to make your children feel that you love them unconditionally

I've recently seen quite a number of pieces of advice suggesting that making sure your children know you love them unconditionally is parenting panacea. I've seen it mentioned as a way to protect children from predators, prevent children from growing up to be predators, ensure success in life and prevent all manner of ills.

I can't vouch for whether or not it's as miraculous as people say it is. But, as a child of parents who want me to believe their love for me is more unconditional than I actually think it is, I have some thoughts on how to convince your children your love for them is unconditional.

To make your children believe you love them unconditionally, you have to pay attention not only to your words and actions towards your children, but also your words and actions towards and about others.

The more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of people in certain situations or with certain characteristics, the more likely your child is to think you won't love them if they should ever end up in that situation or develop that characteristic. 

Even if you tell your child every day that you love them unconditionally, and even if you actually love them unconditionally every day, the more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of Those People, the more likely your child is to question whether you would love them if they became one of Those People.

For example, the more your preteen child hears you commenting on how disgusting it is that overweight people don't have the self-discipline to manage their weight, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them after the puberty fairy comes along and gives them a body that's prone to plumpness.

The more your child hears you saying that unemployed people are lazy ungrateful bums who deserve to starve if they don't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them if they should ever struggle to find work.

And it's not just the things you say to your child that you need to be careful of. You also need to be careful of the things you say in their presence - conversations with other adults when your child is in the room, or things you post on the internet now that your child might read when they're older. (Don't you aspire for your child to grow up to be savvy enough to track down things people posted on the internet decades earlier? And don't you aspire for your child to be interested enough in your opinions and in you as a person to look you up?)

"Surely you're not saying that I have to express unconditional love for every random person I might ever speak to or about within my child's sphere of awareness!"

You don't have to express unconditional love for random people for the simple reason that our baseline feeling towards random people isn't love.  Our baseline feeling towards random people is neutrality.

So what you need to do is express unconditional neutrality for the random people you speak to or about within your child's sphere of awareness.

For example, compare the following two statements:

1. "That disgusting piece of scum drove drunk and killed three people! I hope he's raped repeatedly in prison and then dies of AIDS!"
2. "I hope he's isn't ever allowed to drive again so he doesn't kill anyone else."

In the first example, the speaker veers into hatred and contempt for the drunk driver.  In the second example, the speaker still wants the drunk driver to be suffer natural consequences, but maintains baseline neutrality towards them.

Children who hear their parents lose their baseline feeling (neutrality) towards people who are in certain situations or have certain characteristics may conclude that the parents will also lose their baseline feeling (love) towards their children in similar situations. And the more they hear their parents react to different situations by losing their baseline feeling, the more likely they are to think it could happen to them.

"But my child would never do that! My child would never become one of Those People!"

I'm tempted to point out that Those People's parents most likely didn't think they'd turn out that way either, but I doubt that argument would be effective.

Instead, think about it in terms of leeway.  If you end up not being entirely successful in making your children feel you will love them unconditionally, they might still feel you'll love them functionally unconditionally if you can convince them that you wouldn't lose your baseline feeling of love in the face of things they would never actually do.

For example, if I felt it was plausible that my parents would continue to love me if I did something so bad that I went to prison, I wouldn't even question that they would continue to love me even if I were unemployed.  I would never actually do something so bad as commit a felony, so, if I felt my parents would continue to love me if I did so, that would be functionally equivalent to unconditional love.

"But some things are Very, Very Bad and as a parent I need to make that clear to my child!"

That's your decision to make as a parent. Is it more important to you that your child knows you disapprove of Those People, or that your child feels you will always love them unconditionally? Only you can decide.

Things They Should Invent (or tell us if it already works this way): ranked ballots that you can use to vote for or against

I like the idea of ranked ballots, but I'm not clear on what happens if you don't rank all the candidates. The last Toronto mayoral race had like 60ish candidates, and I certainly couldn't put that many candidates in order!  (And even if you could, they'd have to let you bring notes into the voting booth!)

The way I want ranked ballots to work is to let me rank some candidates positively, and some candidates negatively. If I think Candidate A is the best and Candidates B and C are also acceptable, and I think Candidate Z is the worst possible candidate and Candidates X and Y are also unacceptable, and I have no opinion about the other candidates, I want to be able to indicate that with my ballot.

However, as it stands, I don't know if I can do that. I don't know the ranked ballot handles the candidate I rank last compared with candidates I don't rank at all.  (In fact, I don't know if we're even allowed to not rank some of the candidates.)

What I want is either:

1) I rank Candidate Z 60 out of 60, that makes it clear that I think Candidate Z is worse than all the other candidates and the results are weighted accordingly
2) I rank Candidate Z -1, and that cancels out someone else's +1 vote for Candidate Z.

You should be able to rank all the candidates positively or all the candidates negatively, or any combination thereof. 

You also should be able to vote negative only without making a positive vote, because there could be situations where it's more important to stop Candidate Z from winning than to have any specific other candidate win. 

In my ward's last city councillor race, we had the incumbent, and three invisible challengers.  I couldn't find any information whatsoever about the challengers. If, hypothetically, I had thought that the incumbent was harmful to the ward, I wouldn't have had any way of figuring out how I should vote to replace him.  But if I could either rank him last or rank him negatively, then my ballot could reflect the actual situation.

I can't propose a specific way to modify ranked ballot voting to allow for "against" votes because I don't know enough details about how they work already.  But proponents of ranked ballots should either figure out a way to do this, or, if it can already be done, publicize that fact.

Colonel Fitzwilliam

The interesting thing about Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice is he is in pretty much the same position in life as the Bennet sisters.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is charming, but he isn't an eligible suitor for Elizabeth because, as a second son, he has little fortune of his own and therefore has to marry an heiress to continue living in the style to which he is accustomed. This is why he has to be charming - all he has to offer the as-yet-theoretical heiress he needs to marry is his charms, and perhaps connections to an earldom if he finds a new-money heiress who doesn't yet have connections with nobility.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters have little fortune of their own and need to marry someone with money to continue living in the style to which they are accustomed. And they have to be charming, because all they have to offer a prospective husband is their charms, and perhaps connections with gentry if they find new-money husbands who don't yet have connections with gentry.

Now, Colonel Fitzwilliam does have his career in the military, which earns him some money. Indeed, it is more money than many people of that era have. But he still feels the need to marry an heiress because he would suffer a significant decline in quality of life if he were limited to living on his military salary.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters do have their dowries, which are more money than many people of that era have. But they still feel the need to marry well, because they would suffer a significant decline in quality of  of life if they were limited to living off their dowries after their father dies.

So despite the fact that, on the surface, a colonel has far more freedom and options than an unmarried young lady in this era, Colonel Fitzwilliam faces essentially the same challenges as the Bennet sisters if he doesn't want his quality of life to decline, and he has to perform the same emotional labour to have any hope of maintaining his quality of life.

If you think the government is going to take your guns, you should sell your guns

The first panel of this The Knight Life comic: "Whenever gun nuts think their weapons will get taken away, they buy tons more!!"

I have no idea whether people actually think this way, but, at the very least, it's a fairly common trope - the idea that American gun people think the government is going to take away their guns, and stockpile guns in response.

It occurred to me when I read this comic that stockpiling guns is the most foolish thing you can do if you fear the government is going to take your guns away.

On the day the government takes your guns away, they will take all your guns, no matter how many you have.  They wouldn't come to collect X number of guns from each person, they'd come for all the guns.  Regardless of how many guns you have at the beginning of Gun Confiscation Day, you will have zero guns at the end of the day.

Therefore, if you stockpile in advance of the government taking your guns away, you will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, plus less money than you did before you started stockpiling.  Nothing is gained, guns and money are lost.

A better way to prepare for the government taking your guns away is to sell as many of your guns as possible before the government gets there. You will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, but you will have more money than you did before.  Then, after the gun confiscation is complete, you can use that extra money to acquire more guns.

Some people might be concerned that it will be more difficult to acquire guns after Gun Confiscation Day. But stockpiling in advance won't negate that. If you stockpile, you'll come away with zero guns and less money. If you sell, you'll come away with zero guns and more money.  And it's always easier to acquire contraband with more money than with less money.

Good morning!

Here's what I'm doing today and why.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Refining the analogy for why unwanted fertility isn't part of health

I was previously trying to write an analogy about why unwanted fertility isn't part of health.  My shower gave me an idea, which still isn't as perfect as I'd like but I'm blogging for the record.

Imagine you have a big, ugly mole.  You hate it and wish it wasn't there.

However, you live in a society that thinks beauty marks are attractive.

You've made inquiries about the possibility of getting your big ugly mole removed, but you get a lot of push-back (and some doctors outright refuse to do it) because there are a lot of people in your society who put a lot of time and effort and resources and emotional drama into getting plastic surgeons to give them beauty marks.

On top of all this, your mole has all the characteristics of a cancerous mole.  Unfortunately, your society doesn't have the ability to detect cancer before it starts metastasizing so you have no way of proving or disproving that your big ugly mole is cancerous, but it does have all the characteristics.

Now, within this context, suppose you have to get surgery in the general vicinity of you big ugly mole.  You ask the doctors if they can remove the mole while they're doing surgery in that area, but they refuse.  You try to emphasize to them that you don't like the mole and don't want the mole, but they are not swayed.  You beg them to, at the very least, not prioritize saving the mole - to give you the most effective surgery without regard for whether the mole is lost, but they still take specific measures to save it despite your protests. And, perhaps, their efforts to save the mole result in a suboptimal approach to the surgery as a whole.

And when you complain about this, people tell you "He's just looking out for your health!"

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books read in October 2017


1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
2. Toronto Public Etiquette Guide by Dylan Reid
3. Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner
4. Dangerous Women (anthology) ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
5. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel 
6. Glass Houses by Louise Penny
7.  I Am Woman: A Native Perspective On Sociology And Feminism by Lee Maracle


1. Strangers in Death
2. Salvation in Death
3. Ritual in Death

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel

Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel is a fantastic primer for those of us who are reading for reconciliation from an ignorant settler starting point.

In an easy and approachable style, it gives an overview that helped me get a better idea of where I am and am not ignorant - I now know far more about what I don't know, and about what else there might be to know.  It has spared me the embarrassment of several blog posts that I was vaguely considering but now know to be ignorant, and has led me to consider that various ideas I had in other areas of life might be ignorant as well.

I don't normally review books because I'm not particularly good at doing so, but this one had such a clear positive impact that I just had to share.  And I don't normally buy books, preferring instead to read from the library, but I will be buying this one so I can refer back to it as needed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will & Grace

I've been watching and enjoying the Will & Grace revival, but there's one thing I have trouble overlooking: the characters haven't evolved.  They're exactly the same people they were 11 years ago.

Real people would grow and change somewhat over 11 years.  Fictional characters who are being written for 11 years would evolve.  But Will and Grace and Jack and Karen have been in stasis.

Which is really a catch-22 for the writers. If they had somehow managed to write the characters after 11 years of evolving, they wouldn't be the characters we know and love.  But their not having evolved feels unnatural.

However, I am enjoying having new Will & Grace, so what I'm doing as a viewer is just treating these new shows as though they're syndicated reruns I haven't seen before. The cultural references are from 2017, but all of Will & Grace's cultural references have been current at some point of my cultural awareness. And the characters feel the same as always, which isn't at all incongruous if I don't think about the timeline.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

T.H.I.N.K. before you speak: let's replace "inspiring" with "informative"

A common guideline on avoiding saying assholic things is:

T.H.I.N.K before you speak: Is it:


I think "inspiring" is too tall an order. There are plenty of things that should be said that are nowhere near inspirational. For example, "Excuse me, ma'am, you dropped this," and "Thank you, I appreciate it," and "I put the coffee creamer in the fridge but the sugar bowl is still on the table." For these kinds of benign statements, you can make an argument for true, helpful, necessary and kind, but they are by no stretch of the imagination inspiring.  Nevertheless, they should be said.

I think the word "inspiring" is only even in the acronym in the first place because they wanted a vowel so they could make a word. So let's replace it with a better word that starts with a vowel.

I propose informative.  One of the things we should think about before we speak is whether we're providing new information that our interlocutor doesn't already have, as opposed to being one of those assholes go goes around monopolizing the conversation and people's time by stating the obvious.

T.H.I.N.K. before you speak.  Is it:


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Books read in September 2017


1. The Break by Katherena Vermette
2. Better Now: Six Big Ideas To Improve Health Care For All Canadians by Dr. Danielle Martin 


1. Innocent in Death
2. Creation in Death

Friday, September 29, 2017

Shoes, Star Trek, and the glories of adult life

I recently got a new pair of Fluevogs, and, in addition to my usual pleasure in having a beautiful, funky pair of boots to wear, I also felt a renewed frisson of delight that I get to be a person who has a favourite shoe designer (acquired organically, not through a deliberate attempt to wear cool brands!) and a life (and paycheque) that accommodates wearing awesome shoes.

This didn't even occur to me as a possibility when I was a kid.  I wasn't into fashion not because I didn't like fashion, but because it didn't even occur to me that a person like me was allowed to even think about being into fashion. Fashion was for pretty people and cool people, which I most decidedly was not.

One thing I was into as a kid was Star Trek. And that got me bullied. The pretty people and the cool people would make my life a living hell for not being pretty and for not being cool and for being into Star Trek.

Star Trek: Discovery is the first Star Trek I've gotten to enjoy "live" - watching each episode as it comes out rather than watching the whole thing in syndicated reruns - in over 25 years. (And thank you, by the way, to Space Channel for showing Discovery on actual TV, so Canadians can enjoy our Star Trek in its traditional medium - and my preferred medium - without having to deal with streaming!)

So this has me thinking about 25 years ago, and appreciating everything that has changed in 25 years. I got to become the kind of person who has awesome shoes! I can be pretty whenever I feel inclined to make the effort. I'm not cool (although I've successfully tricked one or two people into thinking I am), but I'm in a place where my lack of coolness is irrelevant and I can love the things I love without worrying about coolness. I can watch Star Trek whenever I want without anyone giving me a hard time, and I can also tell everyone that I'm watching Star Trek and they still don't give me a hard time!

Plus, through the magic of 21st-century technology (i.e. Twitter) I can discuss Star Trek with like-minded people even if there aren't any in the room or in my social circle. I can talk to Star Trek cast members and Klingon translators (and have done so - and gotten likes replies - repeatedly!), and discuss serious themes like economics and colonialism interspersed with jokes and fannish speculation.

And I do all this from my very own condo in Toronto, which is significant because all those pretty people and cool people who bullied me aspired to leaving our small town and moving to Toronto, and, even though it didn't even occur to me at the time that a person like me was allowed to aspire to such things, I seem to have achieved it anyway.

My adolescent self would be mindblown!

I wonder if, 25 years from now, there will be elements of my life that currently don't seem like things I am even allowed to aspire to?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Two kinds of people in the world

Theory: There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point.  This leads you to conclude that they must be a more sensible person than you originally thought.
2. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point. This leads you to question whether your opinion about that point is in fact correct.

I further theorize that each of these groups of people would conclude that the other group's approach/attitude is coming from a place of self-absorption.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The first homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.

If you think about it, it's really weird that homophones became a thing in the first place!

Yes, I know, homophones tend to enter the language from different origins.  For example, "sight" comes from Old English, and "site" comes from Latin.

But someone at some point in human history was the first person to attempt to use a homophone, and at some point (may or may not have been the first attempt) the notion stuck.

It's so weird to me that the notion stuck!  If you imagine a world where there's no such thing as a homophone, it seems like homophones would be a dealbreaker - think of the confusion if words suddenly started meaning multiple unrelated things depending on context, in a universe where words have only ever had one meaning!

But for some reason it stuck. No one said "Dude, you can't call it a "site" - that sounds exactly like "sight" and everyone will get confused! We already have perfectly good words like "place" or "location". Use one of those."   (Or they did say this and went unheeded.)  And then, as time passed, even more homophones got added. (Including, in this specific example, the word "cite".)

If it hadn't already happened, no one would ever believe that something like that could happen.