Sunday, May 24, 2015

Various thoughts on various kinds of prejudice depicted in Call the Midwife (full spoilers)

1. In one episode, the expectant parents with the Medical Drama of the Week happen to be a black couple.  It's mentioned in passing that they're from another country, and their accent suggests somewhere in the Caribbean (I'm not familiar enough with Caribbean accents or history to narrow it to a specific country, and further details were not given on-screen.)  The husband is a bus driver, and they live in one of the nicer flats portrayed in the series (clean, well-lit, decorated, not overly cramped).  As I watched this, I appreciated that they managed to portray the real-life diversity of London in a matter-of-fact sort of way that wasn't limited to discrimination plotlines.

In the next episode, there was an Irish family that was living in squalor and destitution because people wouldn't hire them or rent housing to them on the grounds that they were Irish. My first thought was surprise that after people would even consider holding such petty prejudices so soon after WWII.  But then I was even more surprised that in a time and place where English people would discriminate against Irish people for employment and housing, black people could successfully get employment and housing!  It seems like black people would seem more Other to the white English majority.

They did show a black patient facing prejudice in a previous episode (I can't remember if they've shown Irish people not facing prejudice) and before the Irish episode I was able to handwave the fact that this more recent black couple wasn't facing prejudice with the intellectual understanding that showing diversity outside of discrimination plotlines is a good thing, but after the Irish episode, I had more trouble getting past it, feeling like we needed an explanation of why they didn't face discrimination.

2. In one episode, a young man was discovered to be gay when he fell into a police sting operation, where the police had an undercover officer hanging out in a public washroom trying to instigate a tryst. I'm well aware that homophobia was far more rampant in that era, but I'm surprised they'd consider that a good use of police resources!

3. In the same episode, the neighbourhood had their  Rose Queen festival, where tradition dictates that the new Rose Queen is crowned by last year's Rose Queen.  As it happens, last year's Rose Queen is the wife of the young man who was discovered to be gay.  As a result, there was vocal outcry about her participating in the Rose Queen ceremony.

I kind of surprised that the woman who unwittingly married a gay man wasn't seen as a victim.  I kind of surprised that the fact that she was pregnant didn't count in her/their favour.  But more than anything, even given the ignorance and homophobia of the era, I was surprised that someone would get from "Her husband is gay" to "So, naturally, we can't possibly have her fulfill the duties of the outgoing Rose Queen!"  It's so inconsequential, and so irrelevant to her husband, and so ephemeral, I was amazed that the people of Poplar had time in their busy, hardship-filled lives to think about it.

4. After Patsy attends a particularly emotionally devastating birth, she goes to visit Delia for comfort. She lets herself into the nurses' home where Delia lives, goes to Delia's room, and sits on her bed crying while Delia consoles her. After the first wave of sobbing is over, Patsy reassures Delia that she'll be out of there very early in the morning, so "no one will ever know I was here".

It surprises me that anyone in that era and setting would even conclude "Patsy is in Delia's room crying" = "Clearly, they're lesbians!" Patsy used to work in that hospital (and, presumably, used to live in that nurses' home) and, since Delia is her best friend, they've probably spent a lot of time hanging out in each other's rooms, much like the secular midwives at Nonnatus. And, since they're both young nurses, this probably isn't the first time one of them has had an emotionally devastating nursing experience.  If anyone wonders what's going on, they'd simply have to tell them the truth: Patsy just came from a delivery of undiagnosed twins, the first one stillborn and the second still alive, and after struggling to keep a brave face throughout the ordeal for the sake of the patient.  So now she's talking through it with her best friend and fellow nurse, just as they always did about emotionally-difficult cases when they worked together, in a place where they would have frequently hung out when working together.  Given that same-sex relationships weren't seen as "normal" or common in those days, I'm surprised that they think people would arrive at "They must be lesbians!" rather than "Poor Patsy, she had a rough day!"

5. But just a few episodes later, Patsy and Delia decide to get a flat together.  And they don't seem too worried about people finding out about their relationship.  "Lot of girls share flats," they say, "Not even a nun would bat an eyelid."  Again, I found this hard to reconcile with their previous fear of being caught talking in Delia's room together.  If you can't even be seen hanging out in your best friend's room in a way that's been established as perfectly normal among nurses who work together, aren't people going to raise an eyebrow when you start living together in your own flat?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The folly of condemning a boycott

There was recently a story tweeted into my feed about proposed "zero tolerance" for boycotting Israel.

This reminded me of something I've seen in US contexts: when there is a boycott of a business because of its business or labour practices, there are some commentators who say it's unethical to boycott the business in question.

This is ridiculous and unworkable.

I want to make it clear, I don't have a horse in this race.  To the best of my knowledge, none of the products I regularly buy or consider buying are from Israel.  All the cases I've heard of where people are talking about boycotts as though they're unethical have to do with US retailers that aren't available to my Canadian self.  I don't even have an opportunity to make these decisions, so I'm writing here solely as an external observer.  And as an external observer, I just don't see how boycotting could be unethical or something that you could have "zero tolerance" for, because of the very nature of a boycott.

What is a boycott?   It's choosing not to deal with a person or organization because you oppose some action or policy of theirs. (For syntactic simplicity, in this post I'm going to talk about boycott in terms of choosing not to buy from somewhere, but this can extend to all types of boycott.)

 So if boycotting is unethical or punishable, that would mean that, in order to behave ethically or to not be punished, you are required to buy from them.

And that's clearly unworkable.  The vast majority of people don't buy from the vast majority of sources the vast majority of the time.  Sometimes there's a better source, sometimes there's a more affordable source, sometimes there's a more readily available source, sometimes we simply don't need or want or can't afford the product in question.  If you're going to condemn people for not buying from somewhere, you'd have to condemn nearly everyone in the world.  (And on top of that there's the question of people who have bought from there but not recently. How do you tell if they've moved from buying to boycotting or if they just haven't needed to buy anything lately?)

At this point, some of you are thinking I'm oversimplifying things. After all, a boycott isn't simply not buying from somewhere, it's making a concerted choice not to buy because you oppose the source's policies and/or actions.

So let's follow this to its natural conclusion. If the anti-boycott people are okay with consumers simply happening to not buy certain products or services as a result of the natural course of their lives, but are opposed to us making the deliberate, mindful decision not to buy from certain sources to disincentivize them from behaviour we believe to be harmful, that would mean that the moral/legal imperative to buy from the source is triggered by the source's harmful behaviour.  If the source behaved in a way we considered appropriate, we wouldn't want to boycott them and therefore wouldn't be obligated to buy from them.  But as soon as they engage in behaviour we find unacceptable, we're obligated to buy from them in order to avoid engaging in the allegedly immoral/punishable act of boycotting.

Which is, like, the exact opposite of how market forces are supposed to work.  (Noteworthy because, I've noticed, many of the people saying boycotts are unethical seem to value market forces otherwise.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why are manufacturers pushing detergent pods?

I'm signed up for various free sample and coupon sites, and I've noticed recently that they are really pushing detergent pods, for both laundry and dish detergent.  Samples are only ever of detergent pods, never regular liquid or powder detergent, and now I'm finding sometimes you can only get coupons for the pods, not for the regular detergent.

I wonder why they're pushing them so hard?

I have found that, without exception, the detergent pods are far inferior to regular liquid detergent (and to old-fashioned powder detergent.)  They simply don't break up in the machine when used as directed, so you have a half a pod, a few clumps of detergent powder, and a not-fully-clean load of laundry or dishes. 

On top of that, detergent pods seem like they'd be more expensive to manufacture than regular detergent, because you'd have to make the different components and then combine them all into a pod and count out a specific number of pods into each container, whereas with liquid or powder detergent you can just manufacture it in bulk in a giant vat and dispense it into containers.

Even if there is some reason I can't see why some customers might prefer pods, why are manufacturers pushing pods to the exclusion of regular detergents?  What is gained by trying to urge us away from the more effective product that's easier to manufacture?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Stressing about stress

As you've noticed if you've been reading me these past few months, I've been getting stressed about various things that I think are too petty to be getting stressed about.

And, I realized, the very fact that I was getting stressed about these things was stressing me out.  In addition to dealing with or coping with the stressers, I was stressing about the fact that I was dealing with or coping with the stressers less perfectly than I thought I should be.

Because of that, this blog post was originally going to be about the balance of self-care vs. self-improvement. On one hand, maybe I should just take an "it is what it is" approach during high-stress times - deal with what's actionable, care for myself the best I'm able to, get through it, and regroup when life stabilizes.  On the other hand, I'm not going to become a competent and adequate human being if I baby myself instead of treating the areas where I'm not a competent and adequate human being like problems!

Then two things happened:

First, one day, about six weeks after my I got my computer back from the depot drama, I got out of the shower to find my apartment flooded with golden morning sunlight.  I put on my bathrobe, made a cup of coffee, and sat in the sunshine with my hot coffee and my wet hair, being warmed up inside and out.  It was peaceful and delightful in a way I hadn't experienced in quite a while.

Despite the fact that I have my morning coffee in the sunshine every sunny morning.

During one of my computer-less days during the depot drama several weeks previous, I'd been sprawled on the living-room floor in the sunshine reading the newspaper, and yearning for idle aimless internetting.  I thought back to when I was a teen, and sprawling on the floor in the sunshine reading the newspaper was one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend afternoon.  So I started worrying about what happened?  Why wasn't this good enough for me?

But in that contented morning sunshine several weeks later, I realized that the stress of the computer drama (and the stress over the fact that I was stressed by the computer drama) was actually making it impossible for me to enjoy the simple things in life like my morning coffee.  It's like when your Sim's "Tense" moodlet is too strong - you could be drinking coffee and sitting in a beautiful room and listening to music, and none of those things are going to outweigh the tense.  So I hadn't lost my ability to enjoy simple pleasures, I was just at a stress level that was beyond what simple pleasures could achieve.

The second thing that happened was my little breast lump adventure. Even in the shock of getting a telephone call telling me I needed a mammogram (when I didn't know that was a thing that could happen at that point in the diagnostic protocol), I wasn't nearly as stressed as I was with my computer out for repair and no fanfiction to tide me over.  Why on earth was this??  WTF is wrong with my priorities???

After some thought, I came to the realization that I wasn't as stressed during the breast lump incident because I felt like I was allowed to be stressed about it, so I wasn't stressing about being stressed.  I'm allowed to be stressed!  I have to get a mammogram at the age of 34 FFS!  So I just flipped the world the metaphorical bird, had comfort food and wine (for which I got carded - if there hadn't be a dudebro behind me in line, I would have actually called the cashier out on that), and got myself through that night and off to the clinic the next day. I'm not sure if anything else got done that day, but it didn't matter.  I went from thinking my first mammogram would be in 15 years to learning my first mammogram would in fact be in 15 hours, and I had to assimilate that information and deal with the mammogram process and all the attendant what-ifs.  I just got through it, regrouped on the other side, and life proceeded with as little stress as humanly possible under the circumstances.

Reflecting upon this, I realized a similar thing happened after my grandmother passed away.  My employer gave me a certain amount of bereavement leave, so I made the decision to use this time to process the experience however I needed to.  Apart from any duty to my family, I decreed to myself that I wasn't required to do anything specific during those days.  A day spent doing nothing but gaming, drinking, and eating cheese was totally allowed. A day spent in bed watching Eddie Izzard videos was totally allowed.  If I felt the need to do something completely uncharacteristic like take a long walk in the woods, that was totally allowed.  There was no wrong way to use my time.  And because I wasn't worrying about my day-to-day (I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, and if I found myself at a loss the system was still there), I didn't stress, just processed my bereavement as much as one can in six days and then returned to work on Monday.

So from all this, perhaps I can conclude that if I give myself permission to be stressed by the things that are stressing me, they won't stress me as much.

But, on the other hand, I'm very good at justifying self-indulgence. And I don't think you get to be good enough by telling yourself it's okay to not be good enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Another reason why early sex ed will lead to less early sex

This post was inspired by, but is not directly related to, this quiz testing how much you know about the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. (I got 9/10.)

Some critics of sex ed criticize teaching students about various sex acts at an age that is generally perceived to be too young to be engaging in those sex acts.

But it occurs to me that if your goal is to prevent young people from having sex, introducing the concepts early would probably help achieve that goal.

I was informed, via age-appropriate educational books, about the existence of various sex acts years before I was ready for them (which was a good thing, since I reached menarche years before I had the slightest even theoretical interest in sex), and every single time my visceral reaction was "Ewww, gross!!!!"  As I evolved in the direction of developing interest in sex, I had to overcome the "Ewww, gross!!!!" before I could develop positive interest.

I also learned of various other sex acts, via the internet, when I was older and ready to have sex.  In these situations, my reaction was either "Hmm, interesting..." or "Meh, not for me."  Even for the sex acts I find more distasteful (which are objectively more distasteful than any of the sex acts I learned about before I was ready for sex) I never reached the same level of visceral revulsion as I did before I was ready to have sex.

So if you want young people to not have sex, telling them about sex when they're young enough to think that it's gross will introduce an additional emotional barrier that will stand between them and their desire to have sex for a certain period of time.

Things They Should Study: do more apartments get too hot or too cold in shoulder seasons?

I was very happy to hear that the City of Toronto is consulting the public about indoor temperature bylaws for rental housing.  I'm miserable for a week or two every May and September because the weather is hot but my landlord is legally required to provide heat (and, therefore, can't have the building's air conditioning turned on.)  So I was all set to write a submission advocating for air conditioning to have precedence over heating during shoulder seasons with warm daytime highs and cool overnight lows.

Whenever air conditioning is available, I set my thermostat to 25 degrees, which is the highest it will go. And the air conditioning switches on nearly every single day.

In cool weather,  I set my thermostat to 20 degrees, which is the lowest it will go. And the heating switches on an average of once per year.  Some years it's one time, some years it's two times, some years it's zero times.  Last winter, it was zero times.

Therefore, I strongly advocate for air conditioning taking precedence over heating in the shoulder seasons.  Even if it gets cold in your apartment overnight, you can just snuggle up under an extra blanket.  Certainly a fair price to pay for being comfortable during the day!

But as I was writing this, occurred to me that this could be studied comprehensively for a wide variety of housing types.  Get residents of buildings of a wide variety of sizes, ages and constructions, with the sample including apartments with exposure in each direction (and corner units).  Have the study participants agree not to use heating or air conditioning during the study period, and to using optimal temperature management practices otherwise (e.g. blinds open to let the sun in if it's cold out, blinds closed to keep the sun out if it's hot out, windows open if you want the indoor temperature to move in the direction of the outdoor temperature, windows closed if you don't, minimize use of electronics and appliances if it's hot, etc.)  Then track the temperature inside the apartments, and have residents record their comfort level.

Perhaps they could come to a definitive, evidence-based conclusion about whether heating or air conditioning should be prioritized.  Perhaps they could come to a definitive, evidence-based conclusion about whether more people and homes get too hot or too cold in the shoulder seasons in the absence of appropriate indoor climate control.  Maybe there are patterns based on type or age of building, and bylaws that take that into account would be more appropriate. 

We already know the current bylaw does not reflect the needs of our current climate and housing stock.  We should take this opportunity to do research and identify what exactly our needs are, and write a bylaw that reflects that.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Things I Don't Understand: non-tossed salads

Sometimes when I buy a salad it's not tossed, it's organized.  All the tomatoes are together in a clump, all the cheese is together in a clump, all the cucumbers are together in a clump, etc.

I don't understand why a restaurant would do this.

The pleasure of a salad is the interaction between the flavour and the texture of the different ingredients.  The crispness of the lettuce, the bite of the tomato, the creamy smoothness of the cheese, the zing of the dressing...this isn't nearly as pleasurable when you end up eating all the cheese in one bite, or get a forkfull of nothing but tomato.

Yes, it's marginally easier not to toss the salad, but tossing a salad isn't terribly difficult when you have a properly-equipped commercial kitchen and are making dozens or even hundreds of salads a day.  In any case, it's certainly easier to toss a large batch of salad in a restaurant kitchen than it is for a customer to toss it at the table with only a fork, or for an office worker getting a takeout lunch to toss that salad in the tightly-packed takeout container at their desk!

Even if you don't like all the ingredients and want to avoid one or two of them, it's far easier to skip the red peppers in a tossed salad than to toss your own salad with only one utensil and no access to a large bowl.

Most places I buy salads from seem to pride themselves in their freshness, quality, and interesting combinations of ingredients.  So why not make the most of that by tossing the salads properly?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Things They Should Study: does the societal move away from print newspapers affect how informed kids grow up to be?

I've blogged before about how a lot of my basic understanding of medical and political concepts comes from my lifelong habit of reading newspapers, and how my lifelong habit of reading newspapers comes from having them around the house when I was growing up.

This wasn't a result of parenting, it was a result of incidental proximity. My parents didn't try to get me to read newspapers are part of education or child-raising, they just had them sitting on the kitchen table for their own use.  I just started rummaging through them in search of comics, moved on to adjacent features like advice columns and lighter news, and by middle school I was reading the local daily every day.

I wonder how this will play out for future generations as more people move away from print newspapers?

Even if the kids' parents read newspapers electronically, that doesn't leave as much opportunity for casual discovery. If everyone in the household uses their own devices, there's no opportunity whatsoever.  If they have shared devices the possibility exists, but it's still less likely.  When you finally get a turn with the ipad, you're going to use it for gaming or social media as you planned, not to go look at the boring news sites mom and dad look at.  And with the move away from web towards apps, casual discovery is even less necessary because it's seen as a separate app.

Older kids will have the opportunity for casual discovery through social media, but I feel like that's not the same as the casual discovery you get from a newspaper. As I've blogged about before, I find that I read more articles in print that it would never occur to me to click online.  I also find that my social media serves as more of an echo chamber, reiterating and going into greater depth on my own opinions and interests.  Both of them have their function, but I feel like I'd be far more ignorant without the newspaper habit.

Of course, it's quite possible I feel this way because newspapers are my baseline.  It's very easy for me to see ways that non-newspaper people are poorly informed by their lack of newspapers, but it's possible that I'm poorly informed in ways I can't perceived by not being more app-centric or something.

That's why I think it would be interesting to study how (and if) the absence of print newspapers (but with the presence of informed parents) in the house when kids are growing up affects their informedness as adults.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Books read in April 2015

1. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by "Leslie Knope"
2. This is Improbable by Marc Abrahams
3. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
4. Festive in Death by J.D. Robb
5. Elegy for Iris by John Bayley
6. A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes
7. Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emotions are weird

When I was a little girl, my grandmother took us to see Sharon, Lois & Bram whenever they were in town. Eventually, we outgrew their concerts, as one does, and we never went again.

Last year, they named a playground in my neighbourhood after Sharon, Lois & Bram, and the trio showed up at the dedication and sang a few songs.

When I heard that Lois died, one of the first feelings to come to me was "OMG, that time I saw them at the park was the last time I'd ever see them perform live in my whole entire life!!!"

Except of course it was.

I'm a grown adult who's childfree by choice.  There's no reason to think I'd ever go to a Sharon, Lois & Bram concert again.

I didn't regret not having gone to more when I was an older kid. I had outgrown them and, in addition to not enjoying them as intended, would have felt awkward and out of place.  I only went to the one in the park last summer because it was in a park - I could just walk by on a public sidewalk, stop and listen if I felt moved to do so, and casually drift away if I got bored or felt out of place.

And, just to make things weirder, if I hadn't had the opportunity to see them in the park last summer, I would never have felt "OMG the last time I saw them was the last time ever!" I wouldn't even have had a specific memory of the last time I saw them, just like how I don't have a specific memory of the last time I watched Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers (both of which I do occasionally watch as an adult).

But for some reason, because I had the opportunity to wander age-appropriately into this little mini-concert last year, I felt this pang of...whatever the hell you'd call the emotion of "OMG that was the last time ever!", which I never would have felt otherwise.

Emotions are weird.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The first camper

I was recently thinking about the notion of the first tourist, i.e. the first person in human history to travel for recreational purposes.

It further occurred to me that someone in human history must have been the first person to go camping recreationally.

People did, of course, live in the woods and in crude shelters for much of early human history, and then for much more of human history used tents etc. when travelling or on military campaigns or as temporary shelters for various reasons, probably including in the course of travelling from Point A to Point B.

But someone was the first person to come up with the idea of travelling away from their home and whatever degree of shelter and civilization was baseline for them to a wilder, less developed place with less civilization, and spending some time there in a temporary shelter that provides less shelter and fewer amenities than usual, all for solely recreational purposes.

In the modern world, people who are into camping think spending time in nature is in some respect better than spending time in civilization.  Some simply think it's pretty and relaxing, others go so far as to consider it very nearly virtuous. Someone in human history must also have been the first person to have this attitude! For so much of human history, people were just trying to survive - and, in fact, built up whatever level of civilization they had at the time for the purpose of surviving - that it would never occur to them that less civilization and more nature would be better.  I'm sure if you put a prehistoric person in a modern-day shelter, they'd be so thrilled that temperature and wind and precipitation and darkness are rendered completely irrelevant and that they are absolutely certainly not going to get eaten by a wild animal that it wouldn't even occur to them to bemoan the fact that you can see things other than trees or that not all the stars are visible.

And then, someone was the first person to have the luxury of thinking that less shelter may have been better than more shelter.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Legally-mandated helicopter parenting vs. children's literature

When I was a kid, I always felt vaguely humiliated that my life didn't work like the lives of the protagonists of my books.  They got to have their own independent adventures.  They got to go to the park or walk in the woods or go to a friend's house or be home alone, all without adult supervision.  Sometimes they even bought things at stores or went to the library or went to the doctor without an adult.  And I wasn't allowed to do anything!  What was wrong with me?  Why wasn't I worthy of this basic human independence that all my protagonists got to enjoy??

Reading a recent article where "free range" children got picked up by the police, I find myself wondering how 21st-century kids feel about this.

I was feeling humiliated because my parents wouldn't allow me the freedom of the protagonists in my books, but today it's even worse - it's not just that your parents say no, it's that the police will come and arrest you!  (Yes, the police didn't technically arrest the kids, but I'm sure it feels to the kids like they did.)

But then it occurred to me that maybe this very serious sense of "You can't go to the park alone or the police will come and arrest you" might actually make it feel less bad for the kids.  It's not that you aren't allowed because you aren't good enough, it's that no one is allowed because it's against the law.  But, on the other hand, that might just cause confusion.  Peter and Jane did it, so why can't I?  If it's against the law, why didn't the policeman arrest Peter and Jane when he was talking to them?

Another possibility that I hadn't considered is that children's books may have caught up with reality.  Perhaps the protagonists of today's children's books are supervised at all times?  That would certainly make it more difficult to come up with a workable story, but so do cellphones and they appear in fiction.  (Or maybe that's why so many of my early children's books were populated by anthropomorphic animals living in the quaint, non-specific past?)

This all made me realize that children's books are in fact the original media that influences impressionable children!  People always talk about TV and movies and video games, but far, far more of my idea of How The World Is or Should Be were formed by the books I read at a very young age.  I think I was far more influenced by the idea that I should be able to ride a zebra because that's what a character in a book was doing than by anything I saw on TV.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ontario has destreamed Grade 9 at least once before

An article on the front page of today's Toronto Star says that an advocacy group is calling for an end to streaming in Ontario high schools, by which they mean having "academic" and "applied" versions of each class.  This surprised me, because neither the article nor the report (PDF) makes any mention of the fact that Ontario has destreamed Grade 9 (as this advocacy group is recommending) at least once before. 

I know, I was there.

My Grade 9 classes were all destreamed when I started high school in 1994.  It was a fairly new development at the time.  Mine might have even been the very first destreamed year - in any case, it was definitely being talked about like it was new and unprecedented when I was in middle school.

Surely there's data on student outcomes from this time.  There are probably even teachers around who taught in Ontario high schools before, during and after the early-90s destreaming.  It seems like this would all be highly relevant in lobbying and making decisions about whether Ontario schools should be streamed.

I want to make it very clear that I am not arguing or hinting for or against streaming. I have no strong feelings about my own destreamed experience, and I readily acknowledge that, as a student who thrives in any academic environment regardless of whether or not it challenges me, my own experience is irrelevant to any goals they might be trying to achieve with either streaming or destreaming.

I'm simply saying that Ontario-specific data and experience exists.  It would be remiss of them not to use it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The first tourist

In the shower this morning, it occurred to me that some one person in human history must have been the very first tourist, by which I mean the first person to travel recreationally.

For all of human history, people have travelled to find food or to flee problems where they were living before or to trade or to warmonger or to find new unused or conquerable land or for a quest or for a religious pilgrimage. 

But recreational travel wouldn't have been a thing for much of human history, because travel was difficult and too many people were too preoccupied to survive. Plus, because no one had ever done it before, it probably wouldn't have occurred to many people to do it.

And then, someone, somewhere, came up with the idea of "Hey, let's go over there for no particular purpose, just to look around!  It will be fun!"  No one in the history of the world had ever gone somewhere for no particular purpose before!  But this person did, and somehow the idea caught on.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

In which Google messes up and gives me a scare

I recently decided to try a face cream containing retinol.  Shortly after I applied it, I felt a funny taste in my mouth.

So I googled retinol taste in mouth.

Near the top of the results was the wikipedia entry for strychnine poisoning!

It turns out that this result came up because Google perceives "retinol" as a synonym for "Vitamin A".  The strychnine poisoning article has a "Poisonings, toxicities, and overdoses" category box at the bottom, which includes a link to Vitamin A.  And one of the symptoms of strychnine poisoning is a taste in the mouth.

So I didn't die, and the next time I tried the retinol cream there was no taste in my mouth, so it must have been unrelated.

I haven't noticed any difference in my skin using retinol though.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Mammogram after ultrasound

When I got the phone call telling me I needed a mammogram, part of the reason why I was so freaked out was that my research about breast ultrasounds had suggested that ultrasounds are superior to mammograms and are sometimes ordered as follow-ups to mammograms (as opposed to stand-alone tests like I had), so I couldn't fathom why a mammogram would be ordered after an ultrasound. I googled around the idea of mammogram after ultrasound, and couldn't find anything informative - mostly just people saying that it seemed backwards and ultrasound normally comes after mammograms.

I know I've already posted at length about my breast lump diagnosis process and this post basically repeats that information, but with more focus on why the mammogram was applicable after I'd already received the breast ultrasound, and what we learned from the mammogram that we didn't learn from the ultrasound, with the target audience being people who are googling for patient experiences with a mammogram after a breast ultrasound.

Patient profile: 34-year-old female, never been pregnant, no family history or risk factors of breast cancer

Diagnostic process: While conducting a routine breast exam during my annual physical, my doctor noticed an assymetricality in the armpit area of my breasts. He ordered an ultrasound, which found the lymph nodes were enlarged on one side. The mammogram was then ordered to get a better look at the lymph nodes.

My doctor's explanation for the mammogram:  My doctor said that the mammogram can get a better look at the architecture of the lymph nodes than an ultrasound.

The content of the mammogram report: The mammogram report said that there were no malignancies, and also said that my breasts are fibrocystic.  The ultrasound report did comment on either of those things.  The logical conclusion would be that the ultrasound couldn't determine either of those things, but I don't have the medical knowledge to make a definitive declarative statement to this effect.

Diagnosis: enlarged lymph nodes on one side but not the other. I believe this is due to a recent vaccination. I've been instructed to get an ultrasound again in 6 months to make sure they're back to normal.  (I hope the don't follow that ultrasound with another mammogram!)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Improving upon the parking space management company idea

I previously came up with the idea of a parking space management company, for people who own parking spaces for their condos but don't actually use them.

This morning the shower gave me a much simpler solution: the condo corporation should fulfill this function as a service to residents.

If you own a parking space that you don't need, you sell it to the condo corporation, which buys it at assessed value.
If you want a parking space, you can buy one from the condo corporation at assessed value (if there are any available). 
If you're selling a condo and your buyer doesn't want to buy the parking space, you can sell it to the condo corporation at assessed value.
If you're buying a condo and it doesn't come with a parking space, you can buy one from the condo corporation at assessed value (if there are any available).

The condo corporation can rent out any unused parking spaces at a profit, with the revenues going into general coffers.  When I ran the numbers on my own condo, I determined that renting out a parking space at the going rate in my neighbourhood would pay for itself in 20 years, which would provide an influx of revenue just as the building comes up for major repairs.  Until then, it should be revenue-neutral.

Residents would, of course, be free to sell or rent out their own parking spaces, but if they don't want to do the work themselves, the condo corporation would provide the service.

At this point, you may be thinking "Wouldn't it be simpler for the condo to just own all the parking spaces and rent them out to residents?"  I agree, but, based on the complaints I've read when googling about condos that do this, many car + condo people don't like this approach.  Having the condo corporation manage parking spaces if there is demand for such a service would maximize options for everyone. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books read in March 2015

1. Paul a un travail d'été by Michel Rabagliati
2. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
3. Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb 
4. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 
5. Le silence du banlieusard by Hugo Léger

Things that I learned about having a mammogram

1. At the beginning of the appointment, they screen you for pregnancy. They do this by asking if there's any chance that you're pregnant. When you say "None whatsoever," they take you at your word. This is a vast contrast to those various adolescent medical appointments where they interrogate you about choreography and bodily fluids.

2. If you're of childbearing age, you get a lead apron to put over your abdomen so your uterus is protected.  Then they tell you to lean over further so your head is closer to the machine.

3. The machine compresses your breast as far as humanly possible, and then another 10% further.  The pain is exactly what I would have expected from this - it's not a shocking new disproportionate kind of pain, but neither is it painless.

4. The pain stopped as soon as they took me out of the machine.  There was no residual pain, and no marks or bruising left on my breast.

5. What was weirdest to me about the whole experience is that you literally can't move once you're in the machine.  You're held in place by your breast.  That's rather a disconcerting experience.

6. If your hair is breast length or longer, you should wear it in a bun for the appointment.  They don't tell you this in your pre-appointment instructions, but your hair can easily get caught in the machine.

7.  The mammogram is taken by a technician. The images are then sent to a radiologist, who writes the report. The report is then sent to your doctor. This means that your doctor doesn't have access to the images, and the person who interprets the images isn't present when taking them. So the person interpreting the images might wish she could pan over to the left a bit, but she can't unless she calls me back in for more imaging (which is not a step taken lightly). Or my doctor might be wondering how the mammogram findings jibed with what he was feeling in my breast that he believed to be a cyst, but he can't just look and see. That seems inefficient to me, and likely to magnify any human error that may occur.