Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to improve assisted dying legislation with one simple rule

I've been reading about the various flaws in the current assisted dying legislation, and my shower gave me an idea of a simple way to improve it, or any other assisted dying legislation really.

I propose that, in addition to whatever categories of patients legislators deem acceptable candidates for assisted dying, any patient who has tried everything and still wants to die is permitted access to assisted death.

I don't think this is anywhere near a whole solution, but I do think it's a (relatively) easy rule that is unobjectionable to as many people as possible and achieves a number of things:

1. It catches the patients that legislators didn't think of. People generally want to impose restrictions on access to physician-assisted dying because they have various "What if?" scenarios in mind that they want to prevent, and they try to write restrictions that address those scenarios.  But, apart from people who don't want anyone to die at all ever, I doubt any of the scenarios people are thinking of preventing include cases where absolutely everything has been tried and the patient still can't bear to go on living.

2. It could create an additional path to help patients access treatments they haven't requested yet. Sometimes you hear about situations where doctors simply rule out the possibility of certain potential treatments on grounds that the patient might not agree with (e.g. to protect the patient's fertility). But if applying for physician-assisted dying triggers a review of what has been tried so far and a protocol for trying everything else, when they say "We can't offer you death without first trying to remove your ovaries to see if it helps," you can say "Great, let's do that!"

3. It provides hope for all patients.  Even if you don't qualify for assisted dying right this second, you can get there just by following the standard protocol of trying, ruling out and refining treatments.  It will take time and difficulty, but you can get there. Every unsuccessful treatment you attempt is a step towards being put out of your misery.

4. It provides a built-in waiting period. Many people who are opposed to death at will cite first-hand or third-hand experiences of wanting to die but then, after some time passes, not wanting to die any more. Their concern that the desire to die might go away with time would be addressed by all the time it takes to proceed through all the treatments, which makes them less likely to oppose this rule.


At this point, you're probably wondering about the definition of "everything". Does that mean you have to try every single medication in existence, or just a representative sample? Do you have to try alternative medicine? What if it's unproven? Do you have to participate in clinical trials?

And what if you can't afford the prescriptions or alternative medicine treatment? What if you can't get into the clinical trials?

First of all, I think the Try Everything rule could be implemented immediately before these points are addressed, with the understanding that we will take the time to examine the nuances and refine the definition of "everything".  This will provide immediate  access for a (admittedly very small) number of people who may have otherwise slipped through the cracks but whose death by choice is as unobjectionable as possible, because they already have tried everything and have documented evidence of this.

Then, the process of working on refining the definition of "everything" could leverage the Anti-Death No Matter What lobby to improve access to medical care in general. Currently, they seem to be limited to saying "No death! Death is Bad!"  But this would give them positive things to lobby for that would serve as obstacles to death, but also help everyone in the meantime.  For example, it's not reasonable to expect people to try every prescription medication if the cost is prohibitive. So now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for pharmacare.  It's not reasonable to demand that people try alternative medicine that's unproven and not covered by OHIP, so now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for alternative medicine to undergo clinical testing, and for treatments that turn out to be proven by clinical testing to get covered by OHIP.


Of course, this comes nowhere near addressing all the problems with assisted dying legislation.  Notably, it does nothing about the lack of ability to provide an advance directive. But, nevertheless, expanding assisted death availability to include patients who have tried everything would fill in some gaps while being consistent with the spirit and intent of the legislation.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Teach me how non-employer-specific unions work

I recently received an email telling me that the drywallers' union is on strike, and this might cause  delay to my condo. (Which isn't a problem - I'm perfectly comfortable in my apartment in the interim and I sincerely hope the people working so hard to build my home get a generous settlement that helps them be comfortable too.)

Googling around the idea, I get the impression that unions in the trades work like I recently learned unions in show business do - the union isn't specific to an employer, all workers who belong to a certain category are members of the union, and the different employers pay them according to the collective agreement for reasons I don't wholly understand but nevertheless am glad work.

Since they're going on strike, I assume they're in negotiations for a new collective agreement and the negotiations have stalled.  (At least, this is the only situation I'm aware of that leads to a strike).  Which raises a question I never thought about before: who's on the other side of the negotiating table?

The unions with which I'm personally familiar are all for the employees of a single employer.  You work for that one employer, you're part of that union. You switch to another employer, you're no longer part of that union. So in collective agreement negotiations, the union is negotiating with/against the employer.

But since the drywallers and others like them (and the show business unions too) seem to represent everyone doing the same job for all different employers, who are they negotiating with/against? Is there someone who represents all the employers? A union of employers of unions?

Or is there a word for this kind of union where the workers work for many different employers, so I can google it better?  (Non-employer-specific union was fruitless, and googling around the idea of multi-employer union kept getting interference from US health insurance plans.  Also, I think Google's auto-complete feature is anti-union. But doing the same searches with DuckDuckGo just gives me even fewer Canadian results on the first page.)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Books read in April 2016


1. Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson
2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
3. Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton
4. Purity by Jonathan Franzen


1. Salvation in Death
2. Ritual in Death
3. Promises in Death
4. Kindred in Death
5. Missing in Death

Monday, April 18, 2016

Downton AU fanfiction bunny, free for the taking (Salt of Sorrel is Eaten, Everyone Dies)

In the very first episode of Downton Abbey, there's a scene in which Daisy almost sends a dish of poisonous cleaning product (which the internet tells me is salt of sorrel) up to the dinner table instead of a dish of garnish (which the internet tells me is chopped egg).  Disaster is averted at the last minute ("I'll never do anything simple again, I swear it, not till I die!"), but what if it wasn't?

It would be interesting to see an AU where the salt of sorrel goes up onto the dining table, and some or all of the Crawleys are poisoned and die, depending on feasibility (How lethal is it? How fast-acting is it? Given that people are served food in a certain order, is it plausible for everyone to ingest the poison or would the last people to be served notice something is amiss?) and plot requirements.  (Yes, one or more of the servants would probably be charged with murder and sentenced to death and I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of that for them, but what happens afterwards is where the potential for an interesting story lies.)

For example, suppose all the Crawleys die. Matthew then inherits an empty manor house with a full complement of servants.  What does he do with it?  How does he do right by all the people who depend on the house for their livelihood?

Or suppose only Robert dies.  Matthew inherits a manor house that is currently home to four women he's never met.  He might be inclined to leave it alone and just let them live out their lives while he goes back to lawyering in Manchester. Is that feasible or would he have to be at Downton? Of course, Mary would probably still be highly incentivized to try to marry him. How would that play out? How would he feel about the attentions of a woman who's completely at his mercy for her livelihood?

Suppose only Robert lives. He's in mourning, of course. But he no longer has to worry about securing his daughters' future by marrying one of them to his heir. Would he be incentivized to remarry, even in his grief, so he could have a chance of having a son?  Until such time (if any) as he has a son, what would his relationship with Matthew be like? 

Suppose only Sybil lives. She's still a minor (i.e. not "out") at the beginning of the series. Can she stay at Downton? Would she have to go to America and live with her grandparents there? Or live in London with Lady Rosamund? (Or was Lady Rosamund at this dinner?) The internet suggests that during that era, someone her age could get married with parental consent. I don't know what happens if they don't have parents. I also don't know if Sybil would have it in her to try to win Matthew's affections just because he now owns her home, but desperation leads people to do strange things.  Or would she just run off with the chauffeur?

Suppose only Edith and Sybil live. Edith is a legal adult, she may well be able to have custody of Sybil. What kind of person will she grow into without her glorious war of sisterly rivalry?  She may want to try to marry Matthew to secure her and her sister's livelihood, or, if not, to marry someone else. One thing I noticed throughout the series is that, prior to being left at the altar by Sir Anthony, Edith was actually quite diligent at (what would have been in that setting and era) her job of finding a suitable husband. She took all the right steps, put herself out there, offered and accepted invitations to appropriate activities with appropriate people - she just never ended up getting married.  It would have been the Edwardian equivalent of a newly orphaned young adult diligently trying to find a job to support herself and her minor sibling so they don't have to be separated.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Things They Should Make Far Easier For Me To Find: humorous children's books from other languages and cultures

My fairy goddaughter (currently 4 years old) has a fantastic sense of humour! When she was 1.5 years old, she glommed right onto Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and it's only gotten better from there.

She recently announced that she wants to learn French, so I was looking for age-appropriate French reading material, ideally with some element of humour.  However, what kept falling into my hands most readily was French translations of Dr. Seuss or Robert Munsch - French translations of humorous stories originally written in English. Surely comparable humorous children's stories have been written in French, but the arrangement of brick-and-mortar and online bookstores is such that it's not as easy for me to find them.  (I think I found one, but after further googling I'm beginning to suspect that the French name featured prominently on the cover of the book was that of the illustrator, and the book was really written originally in English.)

During previous book shopping trips for my fairy goddaughter and my baby cousins, I've noticed displays featuring stories from other cultures. (I didn't bother to check if they were translations of existing stories from other cultures, or stories written in English that are set in other cultures.)  I gravitated towards these displays because I like the idea of introducing other cultures and to the notion that there's an unimaginably massive range of people and ways of life in the world, but I was disappointed to find that all the multicultural stories were serious.  They were stories with A Moral, or they were so focused on portraying the beauty and dignity of the culture that they were verging on the Noble Savage archetype. Serious stories have their place, of course, but the current combination of personalities, relationships and developmental stages puts us more in the market for fun and humour at the moment, and I don't see why that should be incompatible with exposing the younglings to the fact of other cultures.

Other languages and other cultures must have their own humorous children's stories. I wish the curation of bookstores made these fall into my hands as easily as humorous English-language children's stories.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Books read in March 2016


1. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe
3. Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger
4. Underground in Berlin by Marie Jalowicz Simon, translated by Anthea Bell 
5. Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay 
6. Downton Abbey: A Celebration by Jessica Fellowes 


1. Innocent in Death
2. Eternity in Death
3. Creation in Death
4. Strangers in Death

Journalism Wanted: who are the people who write publishable letters to the editor without knowing they'll be googleable?

Recently, the Toronto Star's public editor wrote about people who want their letters to the editor unpublished because they're googleable.

My question: who are these people?  This is really a unique convergence of factors. They are people to whom it occurs to write a letter to the editor, they are savvy enough to write a letter to the editor that gets selected for publication, they are completely unaware of the fact that a letter to the editor would become googleable, and they are affected by the fact that their letter (and the opinions contained therein) are googleable.

How do all these factors manage to converge? The combination of inclination to write a letter to the editor and unawareness of how googleability works makes me think of people who are very old and technologically illiterate, but would these people be affected by the googleability of their letter?  I mean, my own parents are senior citizens and they know how googleability works, so those who are unaware of it would be, like, octogenarians and above, most of whom aren't in the workforce or any other situation where the googleability of their opinions would have any impact.

Also, they don't print truly extremist positions in letters to the editor. If someone wrote in with hate speech or something, it wouldn't get printed.  But one of the reasons cited for requesting a letter to be unpublished is professional repercussions for the political views expressed.  Jobs where people would suffer repercussions for political views sufficiently benign to be printed in a letter to the editor are generally the sort of job that requires some degree of savvy and nuance - the sort of thing where you'd think people would need to know how googleability works in order to function properly at their job.  So how did they get there?

I really want the newspaper to interview these people (even if anonymously) and tell us their stories.  How did all these factors converge?

Where have all the anti-chafing gels gone?

I recently had my very first experience with thigh chafing. I have no idea why it happened now or why it has never happened before, but it made every step I took an ordeal and preoccupied every aspect of my life.

I tried every solution I could think of or google up (baby powder, vaseline, moisturizer, diaper cream, antiperspirant, personal lubricant, Body Glide), and none of them provided the frictionless experience I needed to get through the day.

The remaining option I hadn't tried but had seen praised all over the internet is Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel. I was reluctant to use this because it seemed to be silicone-based, and it turned out that many of my hair problems had been caused by silicones (or, at least, had been solved by eliminating silicones) so I was wary of it as an ingredient.  But, having tried everything else and not been happy with the results, I figured it was time to risk it. So I waddled over to Shoppers Drug Mart...and couldn't find it on the shelf.  I asked the pharmacist, and she said they didn't sell it.  She added that they did used to have a similar product from Lanacane, but they didn't have it any more.

So I waddled over to Rexall, and they also didn't have the Monistat either.  They did have the Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel...but it was on clearance, suggesting that it's been discontinued!  Which is tragic, because it turns out it's the best of all the products at creating a frictionless situation between my thighs!

Monistat's Canadian website doesn't even have the Chafing Relief Gel, and the price of the product is greatly inflated on amazon.ca. Lanacane still has the Anti-Chafing Gel on its website, but it doesn't have a separate Canadian website and its availability online seems to be petering out.  Googleable evidence suggests that they're both still readily available in the US market.

And I haven't seen any other silicone-based anti-chafing gels on the drugstore shelves.

Why is this whole category of products apparently disappeared from major chain drugstore shelves, and perhaps even have gone so far as to be discontinued?  Other products just aren't comparable!

(If you googled your way here looking for a solution for thigh chafing, the real hero turned out to be ice packs. They brought immediate relief to the physical discomfort, and a diligent icing regime promoted healing far faster than I thought humanly possible.  I went from "OMG, I'm going to have to go to the doctor" to "I wouldn't even have anything to show the doctor" in 48 hours. However, people can't always have an ice pack between their legs every single moment of every single day, and people want the option of prevent the chafing before it happens, so we need anti-chafing gels too.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rimmel Scandaleyes Precision Micro Eyeliner is none of the above

My default eyeliner is Rimmel Glam'Eyes liquid liner, which I appreciate in particular for its very thin brush, which allows a fine and precise line even with the dark liquid black I prefer.  My only qualm is that it isn't waterproof, and therefore needs to be touched up throughout the day.

On my last shopping trip, I noticed a new Rimmel product: ScandalEyes Precision Micro Eyeliner.  The packaging touted its fine tip and waterproof formula, so I thought this was just what I need!

Unfortunately, it doesn't do the job at all.

When I attempted to line my eyes using the tip of the pen, only a sporadic, sheer grey line came out. In frustration I scribbed with it on the back of my hand like it was a dead sharpie, and a darker line came out if I pressed down hard and used the side of the pen.  But that line wasn't narrow, and required pressing too hard to duplicate on my eyelids.  And even then, it wasn't consistently as dark as the liquid liner.

So, in short, this alleged precision micro eyeliner is not capable of providing a "precision" or "micro" line when used on the eyes.

The only part of its name that is accurate is the "scandal" part: it's a scandal that Rimmel would make a new product that's so inferior in every way to their old product. 

Dear Rimme: all you have to do is put a waterproof liquid liner in the same packaging with the same brush as the Glam'Eyes liquid.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If you haven't sponsored Eddie Izzard yet, now's the time!

Tomorrow is the last day of Eddie Izzard 27 marathons in 27 day challenge.

So far, he has completed 25 marathons in 26 days, after losing a day to a medical emergency.  So he decided he's going to make it up by running two marathons (84 km) tomorrow, even though he's never done a double marathon before.  And, because apparently that's not challenging enough, he then decided to up his last day's run to 90 km, in honour of South Africa's Comrades Marathon.

Eddie is scheduled to start his double marathon at 5 a.m. South African time (which is about 2 hours after I click Publish on this post), and to end 12 hour later. 

I ardently wish him all the good luck in the known universe, and sincerely hope that enough money is raised that everyone involved feels fully satisfied that this increasingly herculean undertaking was completely worthwhile.

You can follow Eddie's adventure live on BBC, Twitter, and Periscope, and donate via Sport Relief.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Downton Abbey thoughts (full spoilers)

- Much like I was disappointed about not seeing Tom and Sybil's life in Ireland, I was disapopinted about not seeing Tom and Sybbie's life in Boston.  Where did they live? What was the childcare situation? How did Sybbie adjust to living somewhere smaller? After growing up in a manor house, did she have any 5-year-old equivalents of a "What is a weekend?" moment?

- I'm glad they cast child actors who are capable of delivering the odd punchline!

- At one point, Mary tells the guy she ends up marrying that George inherits Robert's title "For reasons too complicated to bore you with."  That's 8 words and 12 syllables.  But "My late husband was my father's heir" is 7 words and 9 syllables!  It would be shorter to explain it!

- (Also the guy Mary ends up marrying and the guy Edith ends up marrying look too similar and I find their names psychologically interchangeable.  I kept getting them mixed up throughout the entire series. Couldn't they get more distinctive actors with more distinctive names?)

- At another point Robert bemoans the fact that Mary decides not to marry Tony on the grounds that "she isn't thinking about her future" or something similar (I can't find the exact quote). But she is exactly thinking about her future, and, more importantly, her son's future.  If she married Tony, she'd be mistress of his estate and wouldn't be able to care for Downton for George.  And if she has a son with Tony, she'd have another heir of another estate who also needs her attention just as much. To do right by George, she needed to marry someone who doesn't have an estate.

- At one point, it's mentioned that Edith doesn't use a lady's maid. I really want to know how she does her awesome hair without a maid's help! They could totally have showed it in passing in a dressing scene that serves as a background for plot-forwarding dialogue.

- Since Mary cut her hair, I thought the scenes of Anna brushing Mary's hair looked ridiculous. The brush was too big and Anna's brush strokes looked too gentle and ineffective.  But I later realized that this was a demonstration of the statement often repeated throughout the season that lady's maids were less necessary in these modern times! Anna's not doing anything with Mary's hair that Mary couldn't do herself just as easily (if not more so). 

- You know how there are political astroturfers who make twitter accounts with egg avatars, follow hashtags, and chime into other people's conversations hurling abuse against their employer's opponent? (Ubhmeathán!) Turns out they have those in the Downton Abbey twitter community! There are random eggs spreading anti-Edith and pro-Mary propaganda!

- But it does occur to me that Lady Mary wouldn't be above hiring an astroturfer. So that's an excellent role-play by that random twitter egg!

- This series jossed parts of my WWII Downton sequel idea, but I think we're still ripe for a WWII sequel:
  •  The kids will all be an appropriate age for military service or nursing or war work or whatever the plot needs them to do.
  •  Marigold could learn that her biological father was killed by Nazis and join some elite intelligence unit to help avenge his death.
  • George's military service (when he's probably too young to have married or produced a heir of his own) could create another succession crisis if they want to mirror that plotline.  
  • I was hoping the Bates baby could be a girl so George could marry her or want to marry her or cause a scandal about marrying her, but since he's a boy he could be George's batman, mirroring the relationship between Robert and Bates.
  • (Sybbie will marry that random little boy who wandered into Robert's room during the open house, because of course she will.) 
  • I had the idea of Lady Rose reuniting with her jazz singer in WWII London, but now that she's in the US she could reunite with him whenever the plot requires. Surely having a Jewish husband could inspire her into some social justice cause during WWII, and then this could be leveraged to make her eventuallybecome a US Civil Rights activist!
  • I'm glad that Thomas is now the butler, because I always liked the idea of the next generation of Downton having this scheming evil butler who's completely loyal to the new heir.  That would certainly be an interesting dynamic to play with.  Thomas may have had a last-minute heel-face turn, but I'm sure he's still capable of a good scheme, and we know he's loyal to George and to Sybbie, so the plot potential is there. Thomas was also a medic and helped run the convalescent home in WWI so an excuse could be found to drop him into any war-related plotline.
  • I also recently read that the real house used to film Downton was used to house evacuee children during WWII, which would be an interesting plotline!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

We can't assume we'll have fewer expenses in retirement

Conventional retirement planning wisdom is that you'll have fewer expenses in retirement, citing the absence of expenses such as parenting, commuting, office clothes, etc.

I don't think this is a safe assumption because of telecommunications trends in recent decades.

For my entire lifetime, the trend has been towards new technologies that require a monthly subscription. Telephones developed touch tone and voicemail and call display.  TV moved from antenna to cable, with more and more channels and more complicated and expensive packages.  The internet became common in people's homes, requiring a monthly subscription. Cell phones became common, requiring another monthly fee, and then smartphones with significantly higher fees. There even seems to be an trend away from mp3s and towards music streaming services with monthly fees (which baffles me - that's like not listening to your albums any more and instead listening to radio exclusively, and paying for the privilege).

If you retired in 1995 at the age of 65, your budget may well not have included internet, cell or data. In 2015, you'd be 85.  There's a good chance you'd still be alive, there's a fairly decent chance you'd still have a reasonable amount of cognition and live independently, but internet, cellphones and data plans would all have become part of normal household telecommunications.  You may well not have even thought of these things in your budget when you retired in 1995, but you'd be increasingly deprived without them as you enter old age.

I see no reason why we can assume this trend would reverse, so when budgeting for the expenses of future decades, we have to assume additional, unforeseen telecommunications needs.

At this point, some people are thinking "surely we have enough telecommunications now - future telecommunications would be luxuries, not necessities."  (Some people also probably think the same thing about internet access, but I suspect they aren't reading my blog.)  But there's three things to keep in mind about this:

1. As new telecommunications technologies become more common, they become more part of the baseline. Think about how many of your income tax forms you have to download from the internet now compared with 1995. (Was it even an option in 1995?) Think about how many things you can't do without an email address.  You need a touchtone phone to access almost any business.  Already we have some services that can only be accessed with an app on a smartphone -  you can't order an Uber using a computer, for example.  So if you deprive yourself of future technology, you're making it increasingly difficult for yourself to fully participate in society.

2.  What we think of as nifty online services become increasingly valuable as a person begins to decline.  Grocery Gateway would be a saviour for someone who isn't mobile enough to get to the grocery store themselves!  Imagine if a person who is beginning to develop dementia could say "Siri, where am I supposed to be?" and Siri would know the answer and give them directions?  Or perhaps even do so pre-emptively to keep them from getting lost in the first place?  Or, on a 20th-century level, think of how with Call Display you can tell your grandmother "Don't answer if you don't recognize the caller" to protect her from scammers, and voicemail will make sure that she doesn't actually miss any important calls she might miss with aggressive use of Call Display.

3. Even if future telecommunications do end up being luxuries, your own retirement planning is not about some hypothetical senior citizen who isn't into technology or who you have unilaterally declared can do without luxuries. It's about you. Do you want to deprive yourself of self-driving cars or holodecks or playing games with your grandchildren via 4D Facetime or whatever the future holds?  Do you want budgetary considerations to put your 90-year-old self in the position of a person who today can't get to the grocery store themselves but also buy their groceries online?

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to anticipate what future telecommunications expenses will end up being.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

What's the name for the way parts of my firefox interface are disappearing?

For the past couple of days, my Firefox has been occasionally having this weird graphics problem, where parts of the interface at the top disappear and occasionally black boxes appear over the browser window. Screenshot below, click to embiggen:

Does anyone know what this phenomenon is called so I can google it effectively?

If you have troubleshooting ideas, so far I've tried disabling hardware acceleration, updating my graphics driver, disabling Classic Theme Restorer (which was being used in the screenshot), and disabling transparency in the Windows interface. Each step except disabling transparency helped a little, but none completely eliminated the problem.

The problem can usually be made to go away by changing the browser window size (i.e. clicking the "restore" button on the top right), but that's never permanent. Sometimes, however, I have to close the browser completely.

There weren't any updates or changes that correlated with the arrival of the problem, at least not that I can dig out. A java update appeared in my tray shortly before the problem started, but I didn't actually install the update until after the problem started.

In any case, my real question is the name/term/standard description for this weird way various things are randomly becoming invisible, so I can google it and/or file bug reports.

Anyone know?

Update: Switching to 64-bit Firefox (to go with my 64-bit Windows 7 install) removes the problems of the blank areas, but 64-bit Firefox eats up memory like crazy.  At one point I left the computer alone for 2 hours with only 1 tab open (the weather network), and when I got back it was using 5 gigs of RAM. I'm currently working on the Firefox memory problem and have some avenues, but if I can't make it work I'll do a system restore.

Second update: It turns out the memory leak on 64-bit Firefox is specific to to the combination of The Weather Network website and the Adblock Plus add-on. It doesn't happen on any sites other than The Weather Network, and it doesn't happen on The Weather Network if I disable Adblock Plus.  So I've filed a bug report with ABP to see if they can fix it. They've proven responsive in the past, so hopefully there will be a solution eventually.

As for the random blank graphics, I still don't know what they're called or why they were happening. They don't correspond with specific objects or elements, and move or grow or disappear when I resize the window.  When I try to take an about:memory log while they're happening Firefox crashes (so there are some relevant crash logs wherever it is crash logs get sent to). And they aren't related to The Weather Network or Adblock Plus because they occurred on other sites and even when I had all my add-ons disabled. But the 64-bit Firefox seemed to solve that problem, whatever it was.

With thanks to , and for pointing me in useful troubleshooting directions via Twitter.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Books read in February 2016


1. Get Onboard: Walk in the Shoes of a Transit Operator by Richard Lee
2. Herbie's Game by Timothy Hallinan


1. Memory in Death
2. Haunted in Death
3. Concealed in Death
4. Born in Death

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Eddie Izzard's latest awesomeness and lunacy

Eddie Izzard is once again attempting to run 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa to honour Nelson Mandela and raise money for Sport Relief!

Despite successfully running 43 marathons in 51 days around the UK in 2009 and raising 1.8 million pounds doing so, when he previously attempted the South Africa marathons in 2012 he almost died trying . So, naturally, he's trying again.  During the African summer.   With no days of rest.

You can follow Eddie's progress on BBC Three and Twitter and donate via Sport Relief.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How to reboot Are You Being Served?

I was very surprised to hear that they're rebooting Are You Being Served? because that show is very much a product of its time and totally out of step with modern comedic sensibilities.

But then my shower gave me an idea of how this might be carried off.

Grace Brothers a struggling department store, conveniently located in London's West End so as to create a situation where all its sales staff are struggling actors, working in the store as a day job until they get their big break.

The sales staff are established as modern, relatable people - savvy, witty, reasonably worldly, aware of irony, texting and snapchatting, dressed like regular Londoners. They're also very good at their jobs as clothing salespeople, able to serve as personal shoppers and do alterations and bra-fitting and such, but in this modern world there's simply less call for this sort of service.

Then store management hands down a new dictum: in an attempt to boost sales and draw people back into the store, they're going for nostalgia. There is now a dress code - suits for the men, brown jumpers for the ladies, and all kinds of finicky rules about who's allowed to wear what kind of hat and how many frills you're allowed to have on your blouse. Staff are ordered to address each other as Mr./Mrs./Ms. Surname, and strict scripts are introduced, such as "Mr. Humphries, are you free?" and "Are you being served, Madam?"

The staff thinks this is ridiculous, so, being actors, they decide to make it a game. They see their new dress code as costumes, and start getting some character acting practice in when dealing with customers and management.  They do their job and do it as well as possible under the circumstances, but they do so while playing over-the-top roles and having a standing wager to see who can utter the most double-entendres. It's an ongoing improv game, creating foolish, outdated characters to go with store management's foolish, outdated vision. Also the fact that they're all actors creates an opportunity for song and dance numbers as sometimes occurred in the original - someone has an audition piece, they're yes-anding the fuck out of something that happens on the floor, etc.

Even as over-the-top improve characters played ironically, it would still take quite a delicate bit of writing to have the original Are You Being Served? characters work in the 21st century.  I mean, Mr. Humphries' whole schtick is that he has stereotypically gay mannerisms, and that's supposed to be intrinsically funny in and of itself. No competent writer or performer would think of that as a viable comedic choice in the 21st century!!

But that gives me the idea (which may or may not actually be a good idea) that perhaps the actors staffing Grace Brothers are not actually good actors.  (That's why they're working a struggling department store!) And the broad characters of Are You Being Served? are a result of their imperfect acting/improv skills. For example, Miss Brahms is a creation of an American actress who thinks she's speaking with a posh English accent, but it actually comes out Cockney.  Mrs. Slocombe is an attractive middle-aged woman trying to play a young hipster character, but her bold hair colours and makeup are actually unflattering and make her look even older than she actually is. Mr. Humphries is the creation of a Michael Scott type with no sense of judgement or appropriateness, but the character goes over well with customers (who have no clue that he's meant to be a joke and simply think he's fabulous) so no one stops him.

Or maybe that's what the original Are You Being Served? was doing all along...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Go Set a Watchman braindump

This post is a full spoiler zone for Go Set a Watchman.

1. It's quite obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book in its current form to be published after To Kill a Mockingbird, because Henry Clinton wasn't in Mockingbird. (There's a "Henry" in Scout's class, but we know that Henry Clinton is several years older than her so he wouldn't have been in her class.)  If you already know that your child-protagonist's future love interest grew up in the neighbourhood and went to the same schools, why wouldn't you give him a quick cameo - just a named extra in a crowd scene? It's a quick and easy Sirius Black moment.

2. Another reason why it's obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book to be published in its current form after Mockingbird is that the description of Tom Robinson's trial is different in Watchman. In Watchman, the defendant was acquitted. In Mockingbird, he was found guilty.

3. But, since Mockingbird was written second, the change in outcome of the trial supports my theory that Atticus didn't actually give Tom Robinson a full and proper defence.  Which is exactly what he explicitly says he wants to do with Calpurnia's grandson as well!

4. I don't understand why Scout went to visit Calpurnia and told her that Atticus would do everything to help her grandson when she knew full well he wouldn't.  She could have warned Calpurnia about Atticus's plans. She could have not mentioned anything about the quality of defence he'd receive from Atticus. She could have not visited Calpurnia at all.  Why did she choose instead to visit and falsely reassure?

5. In my Mockingbird post, I theorized that Scout could grow into someone who is (or is perceived to be) racist in her old age. After Watchman, I still don't feel like we know enough to argue for or against that outcome. But if I were to start collecting evidence that could be used to argue that Scout is racist, I would include that conversation with Calpurnia, along with Scout's assumption that the dialect Calpurnia speaks in the black community isn't her natural dialect while the dialect she speaks when raising her white employer's children is.

6. The most interesting story alluded to in this book isn't told at all: it's the story of the impact of the Second World War. Dill is in Italy!  If you look at it from the universe of Mockingbird, that's unimaginable!  What's he doing there? What's his life like? But in Watchman, it's just mentioned in passing and wouldn't even be mentionable if Mockingbird didn't exist.

7. (If Mockingbird had in fact been written with the intention of publishing it and then publishing Watchman, I suspect the characters of Dill and Henry would have been merged into one. Henry is or can easily be presented as enough of an outsider to fulfill the role of Dill in Mockingbird. We would then have been shown rather than told Henry's and Scout's long-standing attachment, and we'd also better grok Aunt Alexandra's objection to him as marriage material because we remember that grubby kid from Mockingbird.)

8. The other interesting story that isn't told is Scout's everyday life in New York. The book mentions (about 100 pages after I started wondering) that Scout went to college and then went to New York, where she's been living for five years.  It doesn't mention what she does for a living.  (If I had to guess a Generic Job That's Not Interesting Enough To Mention for a woman in her era and circumstances it would have been some kind of typing job, but the book specifically mentions that she can't use a typerwriter.) It doesn't mention where she lives or what her day-to-day life is like.  It doesn't get into how she found adapting to the city after growing up in such a ridiculously small town. That would be interesting!  I would totally read The Adventures of Scout in New York City! But the book doesn't even touch on it.

9. I haven't looked into whether Mockingbird has a robust fanfiction community and I'm not sure that I want to have a fanfiction relationship with this universe, but the adventures of Dill in Italy and the adventures of Scout in New York would be excellent fodder for a skilled fanfic author who is loyal to the characters and the settings. (Or, like, for Harper Lee to write more books in this universe, but I suspect that's not something she'll be doing.)

10. Overall, in reading this book, a feeling I had all too often was "I don't get it".

Often what I didn't get was, as I mentioned in my previous posts, a result of my being too far removed from the culture in which the book was written.  There are things that feel like the author thinks they're meaningful, but are meaningless to me.

One important example not mentioned in my previous posts is the racist organization to which Atticus and Henry belong, which is called a "Citizens' Council".  Scout expresses shock that such a thing exists in Maycomb, then goes to the meeting and hears all kinds of vile racist rhetoric being spewed.

The problem for me as a reader is that "Citizens' Council" sounds like some kind of municipal volunteer organization that discusses the beautification of parks or something.  I was spoiled for the racist plotline so I was able to quickly put together what was going on, but if I hadn't been I wouldn't have understood Scout's shock at the organization's existence.  Then, when she attended the meeting, I would have concluded that the council had been taken over by some Rob Ford type and that the rest of the plotline would have to do with unseating him.  Then I would have been very confused for a very long time.

Googling "Citizens' Council" is actually informative - the very first result has the information you need - but if I hadn't known about this plotline in advance, it never would have even occurred to me from my seat in 21st-century Canada to look into the name of this seemingly clearly-named and innocuous-sounding organization for an explanation of why they're spewing racist rhetoric and why Scout seemed to see that coming.

11. Another thing I often didn't get was the then-current events being referred to.  In one case, a current event was described only with the name of the state (either Mississippi or Missouri).  And, since I don't know the exact year the book is set, it's not like I can just google "What was happening in Mississippi in the 1950s?"  There's a mention of a Supreme Court decision that's fairly key, and I could only figure out what the actual decision was by including "Go Set a Watchman" as a search keyword - there wasn't enough information to get there based on the text alone. The characters are talking like everyone knows what they're talking about, and I'm missing crucial information because I live in a different country and a different century.

12. But there were also non-cultural things I didn't get. I came away from the book feeling that I hadn't understood the whole story. So what does Scout end up doing in the long run? Does she stay with Henry or does she dump him? Was Atticus racist all along or did he become racist due to recent events? If so, which of the vaguely-alluded recent events triggered it?  I also felt like the book intended to have a moral of the story, but I wasn't able to determine what it was actually intended to be.

13. I think the cultural "I don't get it"s could be addressed with very minor editing. This is a book with multi-page "As you know..." conversations about US history. Surely it wouldn't be too arduous to slip in a few keywords here and there so 21st-century readers and their international readers (both of which they knew they would have, given that the book was published in 2015 as the sequel to a famous novel) could grasp the connotations just as easily as the author's contemporaries.  Since the drink "set-up" is mentioned in an explanation from the narrator to the reader about the drinking habits of the people of Maycomb, it wouldn't be at all incongruous for the narrator to slip in a few words explaining to the reader what a "set-up" actually is. The internet tells me that Citizens' Councils are also referred to as White Citizens' Councils, so it wouldn't be at all out of place to just slip the word "White" in there in the first occurrence to give those of us who aren't up on the subject matter a hint of why Scout might be shocked about it. The impenetrable references to then-current events could be also be made clear (or, at least, googleable) with a keyword to get us started.

14. As for the aspects of the plot resolution and moral that I felt I missed, normally I would assume it's because I'm not a sophisticated enough reader.  Despite being a voracious reader I've never been especially good at Literature, so I wouldn't be surprised if I missed the kind of stuff that people write papers about.  But what's relevant in the particular case of Watchman is that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything after reading Mockingbird.  Even though I did miss some stuff, as I discovered in my reread, I came away feeling that I had grasped as much of the plot resolution and the moral as the book intended me to.  And, frankly, it's only polite to make multiple books in a series equally accessible to the same set of readers.

15. While it is the author's prerogative to write the way she wants to without spelling everything out for outsiders, I think doing so here is a missed opportunity.  Given the cultural weight of Mockingbird, Watchman was going to reach a lot of people who are far enough removed from the culture in which it was written to not get it.  And, especially in light of some of the racial weirdness in the news lately, it has the potential to be particularly educational to those of us who don't get it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Books read in January 2016


1. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee
2. The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford by John Filion 
3. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler
4. Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton 
5. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee 
6. Mirror, Mirror (short story anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan


1. Divided in Death
2. Visions in Death 
3. Survivor in Death 
4. Origin in Death

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More things I don't understand in Go Set a Watchman

This is still a spoiler-free zone for Go Set a Watchman. I'm still less than 100 pages in.
In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink. When one drank, one went behind the garage, turned up a pint, and drank it down; when one did not drink, one asked for set-ups at the E-Lite Eat Shop under cover of darkness: a man having a couple of drinks before or after dinner in his home or with his neighbor was unheard of. That was Social Drinking. Those who Drank Socially were not quite out of the top drawer, and because no one in Maycomb considered himself out of any drawer but the top, there was no Social Drinking.
1. What's a "set-up" in this context? I'm not able to google it effectively.
2. I know that "top drawer" is a good thing (high class, elite, etc.)  Is "out of the top drawer" a synonym or an antonym? Drinking socially seems classier than drinking behind the garage. Does that mean the people of Maycomb are specifically attempting not to present as classy?

With company came Calpurnia’s company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis’s English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, “Excuse me, please,” reached up, and brought Calpurnia’s head to the level of her own. “Cal,” she whispered, “is Atticus real upset?”

Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, “Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin’!”
I know from Mockingbird that Calpurnia code-switches.  She speaks like educated white people in the Finch home, and speaks like other black people within the black community.  But I don't know how they're saying she talks in the presence of "company".

After some interference-riddled googling, I suspect "Jeff Davis" refers to one Jefferson Davis, who, according to Wikipedia, was the president of the Confederate States of America during the US civil war. However, I don't know what his English is like.

The phrase "dropped her verbs" suggests a deviation from what is considered standard English, which suggests that Calpurnia talks more black in front of guests. Why would she do this?  But in her answer to Scout's question, she appears to drop a verb (saying "He on the back porch" rather than "He is on the back porch").

Also, in Mockingbird, Calpurnia talks more black within the black community, which includes her immediate family. Which would suggest that she's "herself" within the white community and performing within the black community.

Unless this is another instance of unreliable narrator, and Scout is misinterpreting which language choices are Calpurnia's "company manners".  But that still doesn't explain why she would perform blackness in front of white guests.

I know that this is laden with meaning, and I'm too far removed from the culture in which it was written to grasp the meaning.