Saturday, July 26, 2014

Things I'm sure they've invented a word for, but I can't think what it is

I'm looking for a word or phrase to express the concept of going straight to boldly/almost-but-not-quite aggressively asserting your rights when asking nicely would have the same effect.

Example: rather than emailing your landlord with "My toilet's been dripping lately, could you have a look at it?", you go straight to citing chapter and verse of the Residential Tenancies Act about the need to maintain a state of good repair and emphasizing the importance of a functioning toilet to basic quality of life.

Part of the notion this word or phrase encompasses is not giving your interlocutor the opportunity to say "Yes, of course!" and demonstrate goodwill and reasonableness. 

The best I can come up with is "unnecessary assertiveness", but I don't want to use the word "assertiveness" because it isn't a bad thing, and in the thing I'm trying to write I'm trying to differentiate this phenomenon from regular, appropriate assertiveness.

Any ideas?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jockey underwear seems to fit differently depending on where it was made

I recently bought two packages of Jockey Elance French Cut panties, which is the closest I've been able to find to my late lamented old version of the Victoria's Secret cotton panties.

I threw them all in the wash before I wore them, then yesterday I took a pair out of the dryer, put them on, and was surprised to notice that the fit was different from the ones I already owned, so I originally planned for today's blog post to be about how Jockey had changed the fit of these panties and the pros and cons of this change.

Then, this morning, I took another of the new pairs out of the dryer, and was shocked to discover that it fit like the ones I already owned! 

I looked more carefully at the label, and I discovered that one was made in Costa Rica and one was made in Honduras.  Here are the differences, at least as they apply to my body:

- Made in Honduras is roomier than Made in Costa Rica
- Made in Costa Rica has tighter elastics than Made in Honduras
-  As a result, Made in Honduras seems to be less prone to panty lines than Made in Costa Rica.
- And, despite the less-tight elastics, Made in Honduras seems to stay in place better.  Neither version is a wedgie machine, but the combination of the fuller coverage and the different elastics seems to leave all the elastics right where I put them without any drift whatsoever.
- However, the roominess of Made in Honduras includes a higher rise, which makes it look frumpier if you're standing around in just your underwear. It kind of emphasizes that your stomach isn't perfectly flat and makes your bum look a bit saggy, similar to how high-waisted short shorts look particularly frumpy on some people compared to shorts with unremarkable waistlines and hemlines.
- The fabric of Made in Honduras is stretchier.
- However, the fabric of Made in Honduras also appears to my amateur eye to be flimsier.  I wouldn't be surprised if Made in Honduras develops holes long before Made in Costa Rica.

Overall, I prefer Made in Honduras as a functional and comfortable garment under clothes, and Made in Costa Rica when I care about what I look like when I'm sitting around in my underwear.

My next mission is to see if I can find Jockey Elance hiphuggers or bikini panties that were made in Honduras.  When I tried on these styles originally I found them unflatteringly low (I didn't notice where they were made when I tried them on), but if they were in fact the Costa Rica version and there's also a Honduras version floating around out there that's similarly roomier, a Honduras version of the hiphuggers or bikini might be just what I was looking for!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things They Should Invent: follow-up online reviews, with automatic reminder emails

Just over a year ago, I bought a paper shredder. (Brand name Rosewill, from Newegg.)  Just days after the one-year warranty expired, the shredder's motor died, in a rather terrifying puff of smoke and sparks.

When I was buying the shredder, there were online reviews from people who had problems, with follow-up comments from the manufacturer saying to contact them and they'd replace it under warranty, and there were reviews from people saying "I don't know what you're talking about, I didn't have problems."

But I wonder how many people had problems after the warranty period expired, but never thought to write a review because who goes back to the site you bought it from a year later to write a review?

Online review sites, including retailers, should fix this by standardizing the idea of follow-up reviews.  You write a review after you get the product, and then after a certain period of time you get an automatic email asking you to write a follow-up review.

The period of time for a follow-up review would depend on the product.  A week or two would be plenty for something like nail polish, but maybe six weeks would be good for moisturizers and stuff that are supposed to produce longer-term results.  I think 110% of the warranty period would be very informative for electronics.

This would be far more useful than one-time reviews of newly-purchased products, and would significantly increase traffic to the websites.  (At a minimum, you'll double the number of visits by people writing reviews, so you can show them recommended products etc.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Do police normally photograph the genitals of child pornography victims?

There was recently a story in the news about a 17-year-old boy who sent sexually explicit photos to his 15-year-old girlfriend, and as a result faces child pornography charges.  And, in order to prosecute these charges, police wanted to photograph this young man's erect penis.

The question of the appropriateness of the charges and police action have already received extensive coverage, but there's actually a bigger, more serious issue here:  do they routinely take photographs of the genitals of actual child pornography victims, i.e. minors who were forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into appearing in pornography?

In other words, if a grown adult had taken a picture of this teenager's penis for prurient purposes, would the police still be trying to take a picture of his penis for evidence purposes?

According to the article, the only things this kid is charged with are possession and manufacturing of child pornography (i.e. pictures of his own penis).  And it says that the police want to take pictures of his penis "for comparison to the evidence from the teen’s cell phone", which suggests that they intend to prove that the pictures on the teen's cell phone are child pornography by proving that they are in fact pictures of the teen's penis, as determined by official comparison with the official pictures of the teen's penis taken by the police.

It's certainly not implausible that there may have been, or may be in the future, a situation of actual child pornography (i.e. where a minor was forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into being photographed or filmed for prurient purposes) where the minor victim's face is not shown.  In cases like this, do the police also take nude photos of the minor victim for the purpose of official comparison with the pornography they've seized as evidence, in order to prove that the materials they've seized as evidence is in fact child pornography?

If so, this is a much larger problem that needs to be solved!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

How to illustrate articles about dying bees

Lately, there have been quite a few articles in the media saying that bees are dying out because of pesticide use, with the general thesis that this is a bad thing.

Problem: some articles are illustrated with giant zoomed-in pictures of bees, far larger than life, where you can see all the yucky details like hairs and antennae.

And, given my phobias, my immediate visceral reaction is "AAAAH!!!! KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!"

Which isn't quite the reaction the article is going for!

I do understand how ecosystems work so I know on an intellectual level why bees dying is a bad thing.  But the visceral phobia-based reaction is faster and louder, so the "KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!" comes to mind before I even notice what the article is about.  And then, if I can bear to look at the headline, it's telling me about how this thing is being killed.

I know my reaction is not within the range of normal, but the fact remains that, in the culture of these articles' target audience, bugs are culturally considered yucky.  If I see a bug and I say "Eww, gross!" more people would think that's a "normal" reaction than if I see a bug and I say "Aww, isn't it cute!"  Bigger bugs are considered yuckier, and the details like legs and hairs and antennae are seen as grotesque. Fear of bugs is one of the most common specific phobias, many people are afraid of bees because they sting, and it's culturally considered normal and a valid choice to kill bugs because they're yucky (c.f. the existence of flyswatters and Raid).

In short, even among non-phobic readers, these enormous, grotesque pictures of the bees are far more likely to inspire revulsion than sympathy, which is contrary to the intention of the article.

A far better strategy would be to illustrate these articles with pictures of honey looking delicious and flowers looking beautiful - which is, in fact, the end result that you want people thinking about. If it is in fact necessary to portray bees, they should under no circumstances be zoomed in on so they appear larger than life! Features like legs and hair and antennae should be de-emphasized, and the image positions and camera angles should be such that people don't even for a second think there's an actual bee on their paper or screen. In appropriate contexts, perhaps cartoons of anthropomorphic bees could be used - more of a friendly food brand mascot and less of a creature that escaped from the gates of hell.

Zoomed-in pictures of bees are not going to change anyone's opinion from "meh" to "Save the bees!" People who think bees are fascinating up close already want to save the bees, people who are indifferent will react with indifference, and people who are grossed out will, even if only briefly, react with "Kill it!"  But pictures of honey and flowers might turn a "meh" into "Wait, I like honey and flowers, this is important!"  And, in any case, they're far less likely to inspire "Kill it!"

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Dementia brings back the monsters under the bed?

I've been reading Love and Forgetting: A husband and wife's journey through dementia by Julie Macfie Sobol & Ken Sobol, which tell the story of Ken Sobol's dementia (Lewy Body Disease) both in the first person and from his wife's (Julie's) perspective.

The following passage is a first-person description of the hallucinations he'd have.  As usual, any typos are my own:
Moving day was October 1, 2007. When I got up the first night at the new place to use the washroom, I was startled to find that the stacks of boxes, floor lamps and other scattered leftover from the move were providing material for new kinds of bizarre shapes. The forms were back again the next night. In fact, it got to so that virtually every evening I would find waiting for me outside the bedroom door a troupe of odd, inexplicable creatures doing their best to shake my grip on reality.

These were not like the alarming nighttime apparitions I'd seen in the hospital after the TURP procedure. the new ones came in two basic guises: animals of various sorts - mostly small, skittering creatures - and tall, thin types. Sometimes they ignored me. Sometimes, but only if I turned toward them and started, they became animated. Then, for example, the low rectangular radiator in the hallway might suddenly convert itself into a small sheep; a cluster of scarves on the coat hook might become a high fashion hat; an Inuit print could spring to live as a circle of wolves following me with their eyes. (A litho resembling such a wolf scene hangs on the wall of our home office.) Some of the more feminine figures, if that is the proper designation for them, carried what appeared to be small creatures in their arms.

At first, I freaked. No surprise there.But then I noticed that whenever I approached them, they would immediately rise and move off in a slow motion down the hallway, or simply disintegrate on the spot, before reforming into normal lamps, jackets and whatever other objects in the darkness had led me to imagine their existence.

On the nights that followed, some of the forms even entered our bedroom and then at times, I had to waken Julie to make sure they went away. (Not that she eve saw them, of course, but her voice was reassuring to me and commanding to the apparitions.) Ultimately, it seemed clear to me they meant no harm nor presented any real danger. All the same, when I later came across a reference book that called them "benign visions," I was relieved.

I rarely got a glimpse of the hall dwellers' faces; I wasn't even sure they had any. They never spoke, and except for one accidental instance, they always managed to fade away before I made physical contact. The incident where I touched one took place as I came out of the bathroom one evening and tripped on something (a shoe, I think,), losing my balance. As I thrust out my arm toward the wall to catch myself, so did a vaguely alpaca-like creature. We met and touched at a corner - Julie's terrycloth bathrobe and my shaggy Irish wool sweater hanging on the coat rack. The creature and I both sprang back in alarm. When I looked again it had disappeared, fading into the woodwork.

I didn't know what to make of this tactile experience; I still don't. But as time passed, I grew so accustomed to the apparitions that I began looking forward, albeit in a slightly uneasy way, to seeing what form they would take each night.

Then there were those other apparitions, the ones that could come at any time and that manifested themselves not as things I see, but as things watching me. They lurked just outside the corner of my eye; if I glanced their way, they also would run away, as if they didn't like being seen. (Of course, maybe they were just getting old and cranky, like the rest of us when we reach a certain age.) A few times I found myself addressing one of them, momentarily forgetting that I was asking for an opinion from a pile of clothing or perhaps quarreling with something as vague as a wisp or memory.
What struck me about this passage is the extent to which his apparitions resembled the monsters that haunted me when I was a very small child.

My monsters very rarely moved around, instead preferring to stand around menacingly.  I was never brave enough to engage with them so I don't know what would have happened. But his description of how everyday objects would turn into apparitions really reminds me of my childhood monsters.

In the past few years, with my grandmothers declining and various people around me having babies, I've been thinking that old age in some ways resembles a reversion to early childhood.  But it never occurred to me that that could apply to cognitive processes as well.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Books read in June 2014


1. The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley
2. Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson
3. Life Below Stairs: Domestic Servants in England from Victorian Times by Frank Edward Huggett
4. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
5. New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb


1. Innocent in Death

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open letter to "No Acronym Here" in this week's Savage Love

From this week's Savage Love:

My husband and I have been happy swingers for four years. Our issue? I'm pregnant. My husband had a vasectomy two years ago, and neither of us has wavered in our desire to remain childfree. We know the "father" is the male of a couple we play with regularly. We used protection, of course, but we know these things are never foolproof. We consider ourselves good friends with this couple, but we are not in any sort of "poly" relationship with them. Our question is this: Do we need to tell the couple about what happened and our decision to terminate the pregnancy? We wouldn't ask them to help pay for the procedure, and their feelings on the matter wouldn't change our course of action. We're just unsure about the "swinger etiquette" in this situation.
The part of Dan Savage's answer that discusses how this man might feel or react:
On the off chance that your play buddy is one of those guys who either is against abortion or hasn't given the issue much thought—because he's never needed one—you should let him know that your freedom to choose has directly benefited him and his family. You should also let him know that there's a small chance your husband impregnated you. Either way, you're terminating this pregnancy.
But there's another possibility Dan Savage didn't mention: what if LW's play buddy is one of those guys who is against abortion because he wouldn't want a child he fathered to be aborted?  If this is the case, he might get very angry at you, and, if you tell him before the abortion happens, he might try to stop you. (And, from a political point of view, he'd cite this as a perfect example of why abortion should be criminalized.)

Unless you know him (or his feelings towards reproduction) well enough to be certain he wouldn't react this way, you and your husband should make a plan that includes what you would do if your play buddy reacts this way.  It is a thing that exists in the world, and you could be in for a bad time if you announce the abortion as good news when he'd take it as bad.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How the library can improve its automatic return system

I should be happy about my library's automatic return system, since it's yet another example of one of my inventions materializing in real life, but I'm seeing some problems that can make it very inconvenient from time to time.  Here's how I'd improve it:

1. Let it accept more than one item at once. The self checkout and scan multiple items at once (my personal record is six large hardcover books), but the return slot can only handle one at a time.  This is irritating when the person in front of you is returning a lot of things at once.  The other day I was behind a lady with two small children who were returning a total of 20 items.  This is a reasonable number of children's picture books to check out for two children over a 3-week loan period, but it takes for-fricking-ever to scan them all in one at a time. A massive line formed behind this family, and there was nothing that could be done to expedite the process.

2. Continue to have a manual return slot. I've seen manual return slots at other libraries that have automatic returns, but mine doesn't have one.  So if there's a line for the automatic return or the automatic return is malfunctioning, there doesn't appear to be any alternative.  (I recently learned that you can also hand the book to the person at the circulation desk, but there's no signage or anything to that effect. And if the automatic return is malfunctioning, the circulation desk person is probably in the back room trying to fix it.)  If we could just pop books into a manual slot, we wouldn't be getting stressed and frustrated when the automatic return malfunctions or the person in front of us has 20 items.  (Or maybe they wouldn't even be in front of us because they'd just pop their 20 items into the  manual slot and be out of there in 30 seconds.)  I think most people would continue to use the automatic returns because they verify that your item has in fact been checked in - plus, they're fun! - but simply making them optional would vastly reduce frustration.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My farmer's market dilemma

There is a farmer's market in my neighbourhood.  I'm glad there is, because it's only a very recent development.  For most of the time I've lived here, we haven't had a farmer's market.

However, most of the booths aren't really farmers.  They're selling baguettes or macrons or local organic vegan lunch.  I prefer the few booths that are farmers - I want to be able to buy fresh produce from someone who can have an informed conversation about the quality of the produce and the realities of growing it.

The problem: the quality of produce available from the actual farmers at the farmer's market isn't as good as the quality of produce available from small neighbourhood stores like Summer's Best, or sometimes even the quality of produce available from the local Metro supermarket.

The asparagus at the market is wimpy and skinny, whereas Summer's Best and its peers have nice fat asparagus. The varieties of apples at the market are non-yummy, whereas the greengrocers and the supermarkets at least have McIntosh.  And the farmer's market is never cheaper, and is often more expensive.

I'm torn.  I want to support the farmer's market so there will continue to be a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  I want to support the farmers selling fresh produce so farmers will continue to sell fresh produce at a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  But I also want the better produce.  I want to buy the better produce in order to create demand for the better produce and incentivize produce sellers to sell the stuff that I like right in my neighbourhood. Plus, of course, I want to eat the yummiest possible food.

I do get that the farmer's market might need some time and TLC to take off, and I want to give it the opportunity it needs.  But where's the threshold?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Post-election round-up

- Signs I saw in my own riding: 1 Liberal and 1 Conservative.  I also saw a few Kathleen Wynne signs in her riding (which is adjacent to mine).
- Robocalls received: 1 from my Liberal candidate and 2 from my Conservative candidate. I consider robocalls a bad thing.
- Flyers I received in my mail: 1, very well-targeted, from my Liberal candidate. I consider this an appropriate way for political parties to advertise.
- TV commercials I saw: entirely too many, all negative in tone, nearly all Conservative. I consider political TV commercials a bad thing.
 - Test of the Hill Knowlton predictor: when we input the actual vote percentages, it produces Lib: 55, Con: 32: NDP: 19. 
- Test of the Too Close To Call predictor: when we input the actual vote percentages, it produces Lib: 56, Con: 30, NDP: 21. 
- The actual results: Lib: 59, Con: 27, NDP: 21
- Lesson for the parties to take away from this election: Shifting left of your usual position gets you more seats; shifting right of your usual position gets you fewer seats.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


An uncomfortably hot day - normal summer temperatures, but early enough in the summer that I'm not used to them yet -  but a quick and easy vote.  I actually got my voter card in the mail (a first for an Ontario election, even though I've already voted six times provincially (including 2 by-elections) over the course of 15 years, and three of those times were at this address.  There was no line, the polling station people were friendly and cheerful, and everything went as smoothly as humanly possible.

Except that dogs are avoiding me today.

As I've blogged about in previous elections, good election outcomes correlate with me petting a doggie on my way to vote.  So I took the most roundabout route justifiable to my polling station, with the goal of petting a doggie along the way.

Unfortunately, the dogs just weren't buying it!

I greeted every opportune dog with "Hi puppy!" and a face full of love and enthusiasm, which usually gets them to try to jump up on me.  But none of them seemed interested.  I commented "Oh, what a cute/gorgeous dog!" to promising-looking dog owners, but got a lower response rate than usual, and, even when the human responded, the dog was uninterested and didn't engage with me at all.

I don't get why dogs aren't interested in me today! Do I smell?  Do I not smell? Can they tell I have an ulterior motive?

Ultimately, I gave three dogs a single tap on the back (while admiring them in a socially-appropriate manner, with their humans encouraging the interaction), but they didn't consent to more.  I hope that's enough to count as petting a dog for election outcome purposes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Saving for retirement ≠ pension

I recently took the 2014 Ontario Vote Compass test.  I found it was useful for identifying areas where parties' platforms weren't what I expected or their positions relative to each other weren't what I expected.  But one of the questions baffled me.  It asked if I agree or disagree with the statement:

"Ontario should require workers to save more for retirement."

At the end of the Vote Compass test, you can click on a link to see the rationale for the compass allocating each party's position to each issue.  And when I clicked through for this one, it became apparent that the issue they were talking about was the creation of an Ontario pension plan.  By "require workers to save more for requirement", they meant "create a provincial pension plan.

This is gravely misleading!  While saving money for retirement is certainly an important part of a pension plan, the two concepts are certainly not interchangeable.  The big deal about a pension plan is not that you divert money from your income to save for retirement, but that the plan turns this money into a steady source of income for your old age.  

Saving money is simple. Turning your savings into a pension is complex.

Saving money is arithmetic - actually, it's just addition and subtraction (and maybe even just addition depending on how you do the math), with no multiplication or division necessary.  Turning your savings into a pension is...I don't even know what kind of math it is, and I got an A in every math class on my high school's curriculum.

You can tell immediately if you're succeeding at saving money - the balance of your savings account goes up and doesn't go down. You can't tell if you're successfully creating a pension for yourself until it's too late.

Saving money is a diligent personal behaviour.  Turning savings into a pension is an entire profession, requiring its own training and expertise.

To reduce a pension plan to "you should save more money" is like reducing having perfect teeth to "you should brush your teeth."  Yes, the diligent personal behaviour is necessary, but you also need the professional expertise to achieve your goal.

The enormous benefit of having a pension plan instead of doing it yourself is that your pension is managed by expert professionals who are hired by expert professionals, and whose primary mandate is to make the pension plan succeed.  If you hire a financial planner as an individual, you're stuck with just your own non-expert knowledge to determine whether they're competent or a charlatan, and it's quite likely that their primary mandate is to sell specific financial products or have a high number of transactions or pull in new customers, depending on their compensation model.  Finding a skilled and competent financial planner who will work in your own best interests is not necessarily a simple matter for those of us who aren't financial experts ourselves, and we can't necessarily tell if our planner is in fact doing their job properly before it's too late.

With a pension plan, you also have economies of scale, and can mitigate risk by diversifying more than an individual can and by distributing risk over a longer period of time than an individual's personal retirement savings.

I think the Vote Compass test may have landed on this phrasing because one of the parties has nothing in their platform about creating a new or expanding an existing defined-benefit pension plan, and instead uses the phrasing "Give Ontarians the opportunity to save more for their retirement..." by promoting PRPPs. But this does not negate the fact that the other parties' platforms talk about actual defined-benefit pensions, where a given input will guarantee a given output.  This is far more than simply requiring people to engage in diligent behaviour, and the CBC and the Vote Compass people do us a disservice by representing it the way they did.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Voters' Resources (Ontario 2014 edition)

Getting Started

Election Day is June 12!

First, go to the Elections Ontario website website and to find out your electoral district, your candidates, and where to vote.

Here is the ID you need to vote.

On Election Day, your employer is legally required to ensure that you have three  consecutive hours during polling hours during which you are not schedule to work. This means that if your voting hours are 9 am - 9 pm and you work 11 am - 7 pm, you employer is required to allow to you either come in at noon or leave at 6 pm.  However, if you work 9 am - 6 pm, there are still three free polling hours after the end of your workday.


The platforms:

Liberal (there is a more comprehensive PDF under each section, but I can't find the whole thing listed on one page)
NDP (apparently you can download the whole thing as a single document if you fill out a form providing your email address)

There's also the CBC Vote Compass, which asks you about your positions on various issues and shows you which parties' positions are closest to yours. I found it particularly useful for showing me where parties' relative positions were not what I expected - and therefore where I need to focus my reading and research.

Strategy and Predictions

My "How to Vote"
My "Where to Vote
My "How to Vote Strategically"

Riding-by-riding predictions:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill + Knowlton Election Predictor. (You need poll data for this. You can input your own that you find in the media or on the internet, and Hill + Knowlton regularly tweets predictor results based on recent polls.)
- ThreeHundredEight (scroll down or use your browser's search function to find riding projections)
- Too Close To Call, (scroll down or use your browser's search function to find riding projections) which also has a riding by riding simulator into which you can input poll data and see how various ridings come out.  (I found I had to disable Ad Block for the simulator to work properly.)
- Election Atlas

Election Almanac lists quite a lot of poll data and seat projections from different sources. I have no way to tell if it includes every poll, but there are quite a few.

These predictors all use different methods so what's interesting and informative is to see the extent to which they agree or disagree about the outcome in your riding.


This post was last updated on June 7, and will be updated throughout the election campaign, right up until voting day.  If there's anything you think belongs in here but hasn't be posted yet, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Things They Should Invent: list added sugar separately in nutritional information

There has been a lot of news coverage lately about the health risks of added sugar, but the general consensus seems to be that naturally-occurring sugars (like in fruit) don't present the same health risks.

Unfortunately, the nutritional information boxes on food packaging don't distinguish between these.  For example, the organic unsweetened applesauce in my fridge contains 12g of sugar per serving.  The supermarket ice cream in my freezer contains 13g of sugar per serving.  But I suspect the ice cream has far more of the added sugars we're supposed to avoid!

It's pretty glaringly obvious if you're comparing ice cream to applesauce, but what if it were a fruit smoothie?  Some of that sugar is going to be the naturally-occurring sugar contained in the fruit, and some of it is going to be the added sugar that we're supposed to avoid.

If they want people to take this seriously, they should list the added sugars separately from the naturally-occurring sugars in the nutritional information.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Books read in May 2014

I had a very busy month and didn't get to read very much.


1. Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb
2. River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay


1. Born in Death

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How I inadvertently embarrassed a couple of goths

The other day I saw a couple of goth kids.  They were very young (maybe 14) and clearly just beginners, but the look was definitely goth, which I haven't seen around in quite a while.

I have a certain affection for goth as a concept, which dates back to my transition from middle school to high school.

After doing time in a middle school where you'd get bullied for wearing jeans in the wrong shade of blue, I was delighted to discover that a wider range of fashion was perfectly acceptable in my high school.  People wore jeans and t-shirts, or skirts and heels, or flannel grunge, or funky thrift store outfits, or surgical scrubs (they were trendy for some reason), or baggy gangsta pants, or pink-mohawked punk, or earth-mother hippie skirts, or full-out goth.  There weren't distinct fashion-based cliques and quite often people would wear vastly different looks from one day to the next.

I liked the goth aesthetic (and it's well-suited to my long dark hair and pale skin), but I lacked the talent and discipline to go fully goth.  So I dabbled, incorporating bits and pieces here and there.  And I found the actual goths didn't mind that I was dabbling, and generally turned out to be kind and intellectual people, all of which was quite a relief after middle school!

Many of the teens I see around this season are wearing fashions that I rejected.  Things like leggings, tight jeans, pants tucked into boots, high waistlines, baggy shirts (sometimes even tucked into high waists) and tank tops with enormous armholes seem to be worn by a surprising proportion of teens, but for me they're all things that made me feel frumpy and gross.  I wore them because I didn't know better or didn't have a choice (wearing a narrow-fitting shirt isn't an option when all the shirts commercially available are baggy).

But, also around the time I started high school, fashions evolved.  Shirts became fitted and were worn untucked, waistlines dropped, and jeans became hip-hugging flares.  This is all far more flattering to my curvy long-legged short-waisted narrow-shouldered body, so around the time that social fashion policing went away in my corner of the world (allowing things like goth to exist), fashion also evolved in a way that allowed me to dress in a way that was flattering and attractive for the first time in my life.

The fashion cycle hasn't returned there yet, but seeing the goths reminded me that we're probably on our way back.  Seeing them, I felt a sense of nostalgia for a time and place where, for the first time in my life, fashion trends were available that I could use, subcultures were available that I could dabble in, and kindness and intelligence could be found in the most surprising places.

Unfortunately, this combination of affection and nostalgia manifested itself in my saying aloud, in the tone of voice one might use to herald the first crocuses of spring, "Awww, look! Goths!"

And they heard me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Vote Strategically

Some people vote for the party whose platform they find most suitable (the Best Party). Other people try to prevent the party whose platform they find most harmful (the Worst Party) from being elected, by voting for the party that's most likely to defeat the Worst Party (the Compromise Party). This is called strategic voting.

The most important thing about strategic voting is that your strategy has to apply to the reality in your riding. The media feeds us provincial polls for breakfast every day, but they're not directly relevant. Regardless of what the rest of the country is doing, your vote will only be used to elect your own MP. If your riding is already disinclined to elect the Worst Party, there's no point in a strategic vote - you'd just end up making the Compromise Party look more popular than they really are.

So here's what to do if your priority is stopping the Worst Party from winning:

1. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's going to win in this particular riding?"

If the answer is a party other than the Worst Party, vote for the Best Party. If the answer is "the Worst Party" or "it's too close to tell," go on to step 2.

2. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's most likely to defeat the Worst Party in this particular riding?"

This is your Compromise Party. Read their platform. If it's acceptable, vote for the Compromise Party. If it's not acceptable, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: ignore the provincial polls; think only about the situation in your riding!

Tools to help you figure out likely outcomes in your riding can be found here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bad instructions (and dishwasher detergent)

I recently received a sample of dishwasher detergent, and I noticed a problem with the instructions.  A scan of the packaging is below (click to embiggen).  Can you spot the problem?

The answer: step 2 of the instructions is the run the dishwasher.  Step 3 is to check to make sure the items are dishwasher safe.

Shouldn't you check to make sure the items are dishwasher safe before you run the dishwasher??


I don't recommend the actual product either. The little detergent pack got stuck in my detergent dispenser and didn't dispense at all, meaning my dishes were still dirty after the cycle ended.  I had to pry it out with a spoon, which punctured the detergent pack and made detergent powder explode everywhere.  So I decided to run the dishwasher again, thinking maybe the detergent exploded everywhere would at least clean the dishes (and, if not, running the machine was easier than cleaning up the stray detergent), but it still didn't clean the dishes.  That's two cycles of water and electricity for nothing!  I eventually had to put my usual liquid detergent in to get the dishes clean.

I've tried a number of different powder packs (they seem to be a popular item to give out free samples of) and I always have similar problems. Powder just can't compete with liquid, and I don't know why they're going through all this trouble to keep trying!