Friday, September 21, 2018

Telling your relatives about DNA test results

A common theme in advice columns recently has been whether to disclose information from genealogy DNA tests to one's relatives.

Examples from a recent Ethicist:

I’m 45, living in the United States. My brother is two years older and lives in Australia. Neither of us gets on with our 86-year-old mother, who lives in London. Our father, whom we were both really close to, died in 1985 after a long illness. I was 13, my brother 15, and it affected us very badly with little help from our mother.

I recently took a DNA test out of curiosity for the health information and couldn’t understand the result that I was 52 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. As far as I was aware, both my parents were from Jewish families going back as far as we knew. The following day, having not spoken to my mother for a year, I asked if she wouldn’t mind taking the test. She responded that it was a route that I might not want to go down. Of course, I asked why, and she just came out with the news that my father was infertile and that both myself and my brother were from artificial insemination. She told me not to tell my brother and said that she never wanted to talk about it again. 

I have been absolutely devastated by this news. Before speaking to my mother, I had mentioned to my brother that my DNA results appeared strange. He didn’t show too much interest. I genuinely do not know how my brother would react, as he is generally far less emotional than I. However, I am feeling a lot of guilt because I think it is everyone’s right to know such an important fact. As devastating as this news was to me, I am grateful to know the truth. 

Doesn’t everyone deserve to know the truth? Should I tell my brother outright, or should I inquire if he wants more details about his heritage or simply not bring it up? Should I give my mother the opportunity to tell him before I do? My concern for my mother’s request not to tell him is of secondary consideration.


I recently did 23andMe to learn about my genetic health and ancestry. A week after getting my results, I received a marketing email asking if I wanted to connect to the 1,000-plus other customers to whom I was related. I thought, Why not, as I might meet a distant cousin back overseas. To my surprise, I learned I had a first cousin born the day before my older sister and given up for adoption by my now-married-for-50-years aunt and uncle. No one in my immediate family was aware that they had given up a child before marrying and subsequently having four more children — cousins with whom I grew up and spent summer vacations. I waited for my adopted cousin to reach out to me, which she did after a few weeks, and we had a nice phone conversation. She informed me that her biological parents and four siblings responded to a letter she wrote to them 12 years ago that they want no contact with her or her daughters whatsoever. 

Do I let my cousins know that I am now aware of what they have spent over a decade trying to conceal? I know of at least two other second cousins who also took a genetic test and learned of this genetic cousin through 23andMe. To me this seems like a ticking time bomb for my cousins and aunt and uncle. Between these mass-market genetic tests and social media, it is just a matter of time before folks learn of this secret my aunt and uncle have tried to conceal for 52 years. My new cousin seems perfectly lovely and looks exactly like her genetic younger sisters. I’m surprised they don’t want to meet her and her daughters but respect that is their choice. 

Is it better to let my cousins with whom I have had a lifelong relationship know that I know this? Or do I wait until it all comes out via other channels and let them know then that I have known since 2018 and wanted to respect their desire for privacy with regards to this matter?

And one from Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: My sibling and I were raised as white. I know we're not. I'm being genetically tested to prove it officially.

This is not news my sibling will want, especially medically confirmed. He is wealthy and a somewhat public figure. We are not close. If I email or phone him, he will probably just ignore it, per usual.
It feels weird to tell someone who will not feel the relief I do — that now, things make sense — but who will just ignore it or still deny it. Is it best to just not contact him anymore? We do not see each other for holidays, etc. For me, this is like a brand-new start on life.

I think people should err on the side of not telling relatives DNA test results they don't want to hear, for the simple reason that those relatives could choose to take a DNA test themselves if they wanted to. Sometimes people say their relatives have "the right to know", but a right isn't an obligation. I think people also have the right to choose not to find out, especially when it's non-actionable and knowing would cause them distress.

The ideal approach would be to mention to relatives before you take the test "I'm thinking of having a DNA test done.  Are you interested in hearing the results?"  And if they aren't interested in hearing the results, think about how you'd feel about keeping the results secret from them - especially if the results are emotionally fraught.

Also, I think before taking DNA tests, people should think about what's the worst thing they could find out.  A lot of people seem to go in expecting something like "Cool, my third cousin once removed is a duchess!" or "Oh, THAT's why I have Mediterranean-calibre body hair despite my Northern European heritage!"  But I've heard stories of people finding that they have the wrong number of siblings, or not enough great-grandparents.

Then think about how you'd feel if you found out the worst possible thing you could find out. Find out or figure out if your family members would also want to know the worst possible thing, and, if they wouldn't, think about what it would be like to have to keep the worst possible thing secret from them.

Then think about how these negatives weigh against the positives of finding out whathever it is you hope to find out from the DNA test.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Things They Should UNinvent: italics as default blockquote style

Many advice columns put reader letters in italics. This is a problem, since advice column letters are often multiple paragraphs long, and italics are more difficult to read than regular text.

Since my head injury, I've been finding paragraphs of italics so difficult that I need to switch Firefox into Reader View or turn on OpenDyslexic. (Or I just go "Ugh, blah blah whatever" and skip that column.)

Most often, the letters are in italics because that's what the style sheet does with blockquote.  Unfortunately, that makes the quoted matter difficult to read when there are multiple paragraphs of it.

I would recommend that style sheet designers instead have blockquote differentiate quoted matter with some combination of indentation, design elements adjacent to the quoted matter (I've seen large quotation marks or vertical bars used to good effect), or different font colour (while taking care to choose a colour that is also easy to read).

If there are special circumstances where certain devices can't render these effects, then those devices can come up with their own suitable way to render the blockquote tag.  But the default should be easily readable, and style sheet designers should be mindful of the fact that italics are not easily readable for all, especially when there are multiple long paragraphs.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Things They Should Invent: notwithstanding clause penalty box

The notwithstanding clause enables provincial and territorial legislatures to override Canadians' Charter rights and freedoms.

This is a big deal, so there should be some kind of dissuasive measure to counterbalance it. Improper use of the notwithstanding clause can be an abuse of power - placing the rights and freedoms of Canadians at the mercy of the whims of those in power - so the dissuasive measure should require those who invoke the clause to place their power at the mercy of the whims of the people whose rights and freedoms they are overriding.

A couple of preliminary ideas, to inspire further brainstorming:

- When the notwithstanding clause is used, an election must be called within a fairly brief period of time.  (Three months? Six months? One year?)
-MPPs who vote to use the notwithstanding clause are not permitted to run in the next election (at any level of government). They can run in the one after that.

The flaw of both these ideas is they suggest rights are subject to majority rule - they only incentivize politicians to make sure the majority agrees with them, which could still create a situation where the majority cheers for infringing upon the rights of the minority.

So feel free to use this as a starting point and improve upon this, to come up with something that disincentivizes use of the notwithstanding clause when it's not in the people's best interest, while incentivizing its use when it is in the people's best interest.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The first cloth

Think about how you make woolen or cotton cloth.*

You get wool off a woolly animal or cotton out of a cotton plant. You card it, spin the result into thread/yarn, and then weave it into cloth.

Isn't it amazing that humanity came up with cloth at all!

Each of these steps requires specialized tools, and I can't really picture how you'd arrive at a rudimentary version before the tools exist.  Even just the idea of turning fluff into string is mindblowing, to say nothing of inventing a tool that makes it happen!  (While writing this, I've been watching youtube videos of how spinning wheels work, and I still don't understand how they work.)

The only thing that exists in nature that's remotely cloth-like is animal pelts. So someone had to come up with the idea of turning fluff into something that resembled animal pelts (as opposed to seeing them as two completely disparate things), and then they had to figure out a mechanism by which to do it!  Because they didn't have tools for as-yet-nonexistent processes just sitting around, they probably came up with rudimentary versions of carding, spinning, weaving and sewing that did not require any specialized tools!  And the results of these processes would have been useful and satisfactory enough that people kept using and refining the processes over generations until we got the old-fashioned processes and tools that are part of recorded history.

Based on what I can google, the details of how people figured this out, and all the intermediary processes and tools that were once used and subsequently obsoleted, are lost to history.  Which is a tragedy, because it's fascinating and mindblowing - possibly the most complex invention that we take completely for granted!

*Linen and silk are also types of cloth that predate recorded history.  They have comparably complex, multi-step processes, but I don't understand them as well and you can google them just as well as I can.  There are likely also other types of cloth I haven't heard of in other cultures whose histories I'm not up on.  And there may well be yet more that were tried and obsoleted prior to recorded history.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Things They Should Study: what would it actually cost to improve public services?

As I sat in the ER waiting room for six hours, I found myself thinking "What would it take to completely eliminate the wait times?"

And the thing is, we don't know.  Because, as I blogged about at the time of the Drummond report, governments are reluctant to do anything that could even remotely be interpreted as even thinking about giving the slightest consideration to something that could possibly lead to taxes being raised.

But, for all we know, optimal cost-effectiveness could be right there on the other side of an expenditure increase. And we'll never know if we don't study it.

They should study the cost of all kinds of different service increases, ranging from tiny incremental increases to levels of service beyond our wildest dreams.

To use the emergency room example, what would it cost to decrease wait times by 10%? 20%? 50%? 80%?  What would it cost to get the median wait time down to an hour? What would it cost to get every patient's wait time under an hour?  What would it cost to get the median wait time down to zero?  What would it cost to have hospitals so well-staffed that employees spend an average of 20% of their time with literally nothing to do, so there's extra leeway in case they get an unanticipated rush of patients?

That last example would make some people think "That would be a ridiculous waste of money - to deliberately plan for staff to be doing nothing!" And that's why it's included in the range of scenarios being studied - we need to study everything ranging from incremental improvements to drastic improvements to the point where the improvements are clearly no longer going to be adding value, to make sure we don't miss the point of optimal value.

Sometimes the optimal value for money involves spending money.  For example, adding data plan to your cell phone account costs money, and a data plan adds value. To make the decision about whether to get one, you have to look at the information about how much value it adds and how much money it costs - which includes looking at the cost of an unlimited plan, even if cheaper plans do exist.

Sometimes the optimal value for money involves deficit financing.  For example, there are situations where buying a home is better value in the long run than renting, even though you have to go into debt to do it.  To make the decision about which is best value, you have to look at all the data and run numbers for various scenarios - which includes looking at the cost of your dream house, even if cheaper housing options do exist.

Politicians like to talk about value for money, but they only ever seem to look at ways to save money.  They should also systematically study ways to add value, in order to find the point of optimal value for money.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Books read in August 2018


1. The Hard Way Out: My Life with the Hells Angels and Why I Turned Against Them by Dave Atwell with Jerry Langton
2. Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl
3. Why the Monster by Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley 


1. Festive in Death
2. Obsession in Death

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Things They Should Invent: clothing characteristic search engine

Clothing geeks have a lot of nuanced opinions about which design features you should look for in clothing.  They'll mention things like woven vs. knit fabrics, bias cut, darts, and other fabric, pattern and construction features that I don't even understand.

The problem is it's difficult to look for clothing with these features. Even if you understand them, you can't reliably search an online clothing store for bias cut dresses, or efficiently look through a bricks-and-mortar store for bias cut apart from scrutinizing the fabric of every single garment.

Even those of us who aren't clothing geeks develop an idea over time about which design features work best on our bodies.  For example, I have learned from experience that I love modal sundresses. But typing modal into a website search bar is hit and miss (does zero results mean they have nothing in modal, or that you can't reliably search by fabric?  Or does it mean the modal sundress is labelled under the broader category of "rayon"?)  And to search for it in a real-life store, I'd have to read every single label.

Solution: a single, comprehensive search engine that does a fine, granular search of every single clothing store by clothing characteristic.

You can search for red and v-neck.  You can search for princess seams. You can search for Irish linen.  You can search by measurement, to screen out all the pants that you can't even pull up over your hips.  And it will give you the results for all the stores, or for all the stores with physical locations in your city, or all the online stores that ship to your city, or all the online stores that ship to your city with free returns.

Clothing stores' incentive to participate (and stores' and manufacturers' incentive to provide detailed information) is that this will tell potential customers that the store has the thing the customer is looking for. There are hundreds (thousands?) of clothing stores - dozens in my neighbourhood alone - and the very red v-neck or modal sundress I'm looking for could be right there in one of them, hanging in a place where passers-by can't see it.

Google Shopping could do it, I'm sure.  Currently it only seems to cover some stores, all of which appear to be major chains.  But if they could use their power and influence as the search engine of record to tell literally every store "Give us your clothing specs in granular detail, and the customers looking for what you're selling will find you".  (I'd also be thrilled to see someone non-Google do it, but Google more likely has the influence to get all the stores to participate.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The first shapes

Circle, square, triangle, rectangle. Shapes are an extremely basic thing taught to toddlers, alongside letters and numbers and colours and animals.

But they're also rather an artificial human construct.

I mean, some shapes do exist in nature, but most of nature is irregular in shape. Prehistoric humans could have gone a lifetime without ever seeing a triangle, so they probably didn't feel the need to name it. And if they did name it, they wouldn't feel the need to teach it to children as a basic core concept.

Shapes would probably become more common as humans started making things, and standardizing the thing they're making. Then they would need to communicate what the things should look like, so they'd need names for shapes.

Would some time have elapsed between the naming of shapes and teaching them to children as a basic concept?  On one hand, if they were a fairly new human invention, people might not feel they're a basic concept that small children need to know. On the other hand, in the past children have been closer to their parents' livelihoods, so they would likely learn the vocabulary of their parents' trades and/or the tasks of everyday living early on simply as a matter of course.

It's also interesting to think about the time between when people started making things but hadn't yet named shapes.  If you don't have a word for a shape, you're less likely to be thinking in terms of shapes. Therefore, people probably didn't see it as necessary for things to be a particular shape in the way we do today.  For example, you probably aren't going to think that the rocks around the fire need to be in a circle if you don't have a word for a circle. You probably aren't going to think your room needs to be rectangular if you don't have a word for a rectangle. Why should flatbread be round? Why should a tent be triangular? Things might have been all kinds of funny shapes simply because people didn't have the vocabulary for standard shapes!

Also, what constitutes a "standard" shape may well have varied depending on what kinds of things a particular society made. If you live in a teepee, you might have a word for triangle or cone, but not a word for rectangle or cube. If you live in an igloo, you might have a word for circle or dome, but not triangle.  The internet tells me that igloos are made of blocks of ice, but perfectly cubic blocks won't make a perfectly hemispherical dome, so maybe your concept of what constitutes a "block" or a "dome" is affected by this fact.

And then, after millennia of no shapes, and millennia of shapes being the result of what people made, we somehow transitioned into theoretical shapes - perfect circles, squares, triangles and rectangles.  Which affected the shapes of things people made, and eventually became so commonplace that they were no longer just for mathematicians and architects and engineers, but instead taught to preschoolers.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

In which my brain writes antagonist-POV advice column fanfiction

I have a good friend who lives in my town. I’m not sure why, but we became estranged. She just stopped talking to me. After that, I decided I didn’t want her friendship anymore. But it’s uncomfortable to run into her at the pizzeria or the supermarket. I smile, say hello and move on. How do I stop feeling bad about this?
If you’ve read Social Q’s before, you know that I often make a pitch for trying to sort out the misunderstanding. “What happened between us? Why did you stop speaking to me?”
I think the part of you that feels bad wants to do that, too. But if you are committed to estrangement, you’ll have to live with the discomfort. How could you not flash on the good times and the hurtful ending — mixed feelings incarnate! — every time you bump into her?

My brain wrote a story where Friend didn't actually stop talking to LW, Friend just got caught up in whatever was going on in her life and hasn't been proactive about reaching out. (Much like I have with my real-life friends since my head injury. I see you guys and I love you even though I'm quieter than usual!) And when LW decided she didn't want Friend's friendship any more, Friend just assumed that the same sort of thing had happened to LW.

So whenever they run into each other at the pizzeria or supermarket and say hi, Friend thinks "Isn't it awesome how our friendship still persists even though we've both gotten caught up in our own stuff!"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Dyslexie font helps me read with convergence and accommodative insufficiency resulting from head trauma

The biggest problem with the visual issues that came with my head injury (for the googlers: my diagnosis was convergence insufficiency and accommodative insufficiency) is that I can no longer effortlessly skim large, dense pages of text, especially on screen.

Instead of "YAY, a new article/blog post/fanfic!", my visceral reaction is "AAAAH! Wall of text!"  It takes work to read things that would previously need no work, and all too often I'd just skip interesting articles or stories that I would otherwise enjoy, because I don't have it in me to put in the work. (Especially after a full day of translating, where I have to put in the work).

When I was researching vision therapy, I stumbled upon the fact that many child vision therapy patients are initially diagnosed as dyslexic. Apparently the difficulties with reading look the same to external observers, and, since the children have never been able to read, they can't tell the difference between "pulling the letters into focus and keeping them there is hard" and "reading is hard".

I remembered seeing something about a font designed for people with dyslexia. Even though I'm not dyslexic, maybe it could also help me?

It turns out there's a browser extension called OpenDyslexic that lets you toggle the Dyslexie font on and off.  So I gave it a try, my eyes instantly relaxed, and I could once again effortlessly skim and absorb everything.

When I hit a wall of text, I just toggle it on, and suddenly it's back to being effortless to read!  It doesn't change the formatting like Firefox's reader mode does, it's the same layout and design as the regular webpage - just with this funny-looking font instead.  It even works with dynamic, constantly-updating pages like Twitter!

Because Dyslexie is funny-looking, I don't like to use it all the time. When the combination of font, layout, spacing and colours is such that I don't struggle to read, I actually find Dyslexie intrusive. Fortunately, the OpenDyslexia browser extension makes it effortless to toggle on and off, so I don't have to choose.

I don't know if the improvements I experience with OpenDyslexia are specific to my post head trauma convergence insufficiency and accommodative insufficiency, or if the design of the Dyslexie font can make dense text more skimmable to anyone. But if you struggle with walls of text for any reason, it might be worth giving OpenDyslexia a try. It's free, it takes seconds to install, and you can switch if off instantly if it doesn't help.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Young Sheldon

The interesting thing about Young Sheldon is it hardly ever makes me laugh, but is still very effective.

Each episode is a gentle, heartwarming, effective piece of storytelling, and every story told is a story worth telling. But I very rarely end up laughing. Is there even anything else like that on TV?

I don't think it would have gotten made if it weren't a spin-off about a break-out character from a hit sitcom. I don't see how they could have marketed it in a vacuum. I don't see how the idea of watching it would have occurred to me in a vacuum.

But because it is about a character I enjoy, I did start watching it. And I am enjoying it, even though I would never have thought I'd enjoy gentle, heartwarming storytelling that only rarely makes me laugh.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Unwanted "healing"

A couple of years ago, my brain started doing that old-lady thing of accidentally calling people by the wrong name.

One of the most unexpected after-effects of my head injury was that my brain stopped doing this.  I can't explain why, it just...didn't happen. For months and months and months.

I'm sad to report that that's over.  In the past few weeks, the wrong name has been coming out of my mouth with pre-head-injury frequency.

I really could have done without that bit of "recovery"! Why couldn't that part of my brain stay "injured", and my vision bounce back instead??

Monday, August 06, 2018

Civic Holiday should be Emancipation Day

I'm 37 years old, I've lived in Ontario my entire life, and it's only this year that I learned a) August 1 is Emancipation Day, b) Caribana is a celebration of emancipation, and c) John Graves Simcoe, after whom Simcoe Day is named (Civic Holiday technically being called Simcoe Day), was instrumental in abolishing slavery in Canada.

This information has always been available, it just never reached me.  In my life some people have been pedantic about calling Civic Holiday "Simcoe Day", but I was like "Yeah, yeah, yeah, another politician from history, whatever", and didn't bother to actually look at his legacy.  And with Caribana, I was like "Yeah, yeah, yeah, cultural tradition, whatever", without bothering to look into its origin and meaning because it isn't for or about me.  I never even realized that they're related and that the backstory is of interest!

This needs to be made more glaringly obvious.  Because the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating and being celebrated by everyone, and not everyone knows that this is what is being celebrated.

Solution: rather than calling the Civic Holiday "Simcoe Day", we should name it "Emancipation Day".  It can either be celebrated in August 1 or on the first Monday of the month - people more knowledgeable of the nuances can make this decision.

But they should put Emancipation Day right out front, printed on our calendars on the day people get off work, so even clueless idiots like me will notice what it's marking!

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Things They Should Invent: legally binding #StealThisIdea

TV writers on Twitter keep telling people not to tweet show ideas at them.  Apparently if you tweet an idea at them, they're not allowed to use it for legal reasons, and that could mess things up if they already have an episode using that idea in the pipeline.

As a person who has a lot of ideas but isn't equipped to actually execute them, I find that disheartening. I would be thrilled and delighted to see any of my ideas (for television episodes or otherwise) actually brought to life.

They should invent some legally-binding way of marking ideas you post on the internet as being freely stealable, so the people who can make them happen can make them happen. (BTW, that is the intention behind my Things They Should Invent, Free Ideas, and Research Ideas blog categories. Take it, implement it, and I'll be thrilled)

And, of course, if you don't want people stealing your ideas, you can just not mark them as such.

The #StealThisIdea hashtag seems to exist, and would do the job nicely.

Unfortunately, like all my ideas, I have no idea who can actually make this happen. But if they do stumble upon this post, I hereby formally authorize them to steal this idea.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Things They Should Study (or publicize, if they've already studied it): to what extent do social programs make life easier for employers?

I am truly terrible at washing my windows.  Every time I wash them, they end up covered in streaks - basically I'm just rearranging the streaks a couple of times a year.

I've considered on and off hiring someone to wash my windows, but I have no idea how to hire someone good. I'd be happy to pay well for completely streak-free windows, but if they're just going to rearrange the streaks, that isn't worth anything to me - I can do that myself.

The problem, of course, is that all window-washers and any number of random odd-job people are incentivized to say "Of course I can give you streak-free windows!"  They need money.  They need to hustle.  Conventional wisdom is that you should apply for jobs even if you aren't confident you can do them.

But this makes it much harder to find someone who actually is good - especially if, like me, you're unaccustomed to hiring people - so I end up hiring no one.

I have heard small business owners make similar complaints - they're often in the market for skilled, competent help before they're in a position to put resources into long-term development, but, because they don't have much experience with hiring, they have trouble finding/identifying people who actually are skilled and competent in and among all the gumption/desperation applicants, so they often end up not hiring at all.

In the shower the other day, it occurred to me that basic income might improve this situation.  An effective basic income program would eliminate the desperation factor, so employer and prospective employee could have a straightforward conversation about their needs and abilities.

So I could say "What I really want is completely streakless windows. A cleaning job that results in streaks has no value to me. Are you able to guarantee streaklessness?"

And my prospective window cleaner would have the leeway to say "You know, I don't think I can do a job that could make you happy." Or to quote me a ridiculously high price since I'm so needy and demanding, which I can then accept or reject depending on what it's worth to me.

And my prospective window cleaner would be far less likely to be a person who's bad at cleaning windows, because people who are bad at cleaning windows aren't going to be going around looking for window cleaning jobs.

I did one brief, cursory google and couldn't find much on how basic income interacts with the hiring experience from an employer's point of view.  So I started looking into the logistics of Ontario's basic income pilot, to see whether it could produce relevant results . . . and, that very day, the government cancelled the basic income pilot.


In recent discussions of introducing pharmacare, I was surprised to see the idea raised of pharmacare covering people who don't already have a drug plan through work.

That seems like an administrative nightmare. (How will the government know who does and doesn't have drug coverage through work?  Will pharmacare cover my the large co-pay in my workplace plan? Do we have to worry about coverage gaps if we lose our job?)

But it also seems like it would be a lot more convenient for employers if pharmacare were universal.  Employers wouldn't have to administer or pay for drug plans any more. Employers who don't provide drug plans wouldn't lose quality employees who can pick and choose to other employers with better benefits. And employers who already provide good benefits would immediately realize significant savings by not having to do so any more.


When they were talking about creating an Ontario pension plan, they were also talking about having it apply only to people who don't have pensions through work.

Again, it seems like it would be far more convenient for employers if the public pension plan covered everyone, for exactly the same reasons. It would save employers the trouble of administering a pension plan, employers who are unable to provide a pension plan wouldn't lose out on quality talent, and employers who already provide a pension plan would immediately realize significant savings by not having to do so any more.


Discourse about social programs tends to focus on what it can do for regular people, which is, of course, where the focus in planning and delivering social programs should be. 

However, I've noticed a strong correlation between people who are opposed to social programs and people whose roles involve hiring.  I also remember seeing things from time to time where organizations representing small businesses object to the fact that government employees receive benefits, presumably because their tax dollars are supporting providing benefits that they can't offer their own employees.

It would be useful to have the data to quantify how social programs can make life easier for employers, in addition to making life easier for ordinary people.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Books read in July 2018


1. Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell
2. Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
3. Life Among the Qallunaat by Mini Aodla Freeman
4. My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling


1. Concealed in Death

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Do culture that value biological paternity produce more people who don't want children?

Today's post was inspired by this Scandinavia and the World comic:

The post under the comic:
Something that was deeply offensive to most of the cultures the Vikings encountered was that Vikings didn't worry too much about fidelity, even the women could shag around, and their husbands happily accepted the children as their own even if they knew they weren't the father.

The reason was quite simple. Keeping a child alive was difficult back then so any child that survived was a miracle, and people wanted big families, so if your wife had a child it was your right as the husband to keep it. The other loser could mob around with one child less to his name.

(Some of the commenters suggest that this might not be historically accurate, but that's not relevant to what I'm blogging about today.)

Reading this comic, I found myself wondering if living in a culture that values biological paternity increases the likelihood that people will realize they don't want children of their own.

How I arrived at this idea:

Every adult around me growing up would have said, with absolute certainty, that having children is a blessing and a gift and a wonderful thing.

And every adult around me growing up would have said, with absolute certainty, that's it would be a horrific burden and the epitome of injustice for a man to end up raising another man's biological child.

Not so much of a blessing and a gift and a wonderful thing, that.

I think (although I can't be certain) my first exposure to the idea of children being work/a burden (as opposed to simply being baseline human reality) had something to do with this idea of raising another man's biological child being the epitome of injustice.  I can't remember the details - it was probably something I absorbed from adults having adult conversation around me - but reading the comic stirred in me the forgotten knowledge that the two are inexorably linked in my mind.

I wonder: if I had never been exposed to the idea that raising another man's biological child is an injustice, and therefore to the idea that a child can be an undue burden, would I have entered the thought process that led me to realize I'm childfree?  I think I'd probably still be childfree - essentially, I don't want children because I don't want actual human beings with thoughts and feelings and human rights that I need to keep forever - but I don't know if I'd ever consciously realize it.  I might have been stuck on "Aww, babies are cute and funny and interesting!" and had children (or aspired to have children) on that basis.

I don't know if this could be studied - you'd need a population that thinks children are a gift regardless of biology and have access to reliable family planning and whose family planing intentions can be known (i.e. they have to be living or have a very robust and thorough diary culture, they'd have to be willing to speak honestly to researchers, etc.)  And then, I'm sure, you'd need other comparable populations who don't think children are a gift regardless of biology but are comparable in every other respect, in order to control for variables that I can't even imagine.  And then there's the question of which is cause and which is effect: do people see raising non-biological children as a burden because they value biological paternity?  Or do they value biological paternity because they see raising children in general as a burden, so if the kid doesn't even have your genes why bother?

But it would be super interesting to study if it could be done!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tax dollars vs. library books: a personal cost-benefit analysis

The City of Toronto's 2017 tax-supported operating budget was $10.5 billion.

The Toronto Public Library's 2017 operating budget was $178.763 million.

$178.763 million / $10.5 billion = 00.0170250476

This means the library's budget is approximately 1.7% of the City's budget.

Therefore, 1.7% of my municipal tax dollars go to the library.

My 2017 property tax levy was $2618.47.

$2618.47 * 0.017 = 44.51399

Therefore, in 2017 I paid just over $44 in taxes to support the library.

 In 2017, I read a total of 55 books from the library.

44 / 55 = 0.8

Therefore, I paid $0.80 per book I read.

In comparison, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 a month, which is $119.88 a year.  The cheapest book on their ebooks "deals" page is $0.99, and the cheapest book on their print "deals" page is $3.90.

So what was my return on investment? 

According to the Ontario Media Development Corporation (the first google result with relevant information), the average list price in 2016 was $19.12 and $12.86 respectively for trade and mass market paperbacks.

55 * $12.86 = $707.30

55 * $19.12 = $1051.60

Therefore, extrapolating from these averages, I got between $707.30 and $1051.60 in value from my $44 investment.

That's a return on investment of between 1607.5% and 2390%.


1. I also use the library for other things, but I can't figure out how to quantify them and don't have any record of frequency.

2. Since I started working from home, I've been reading less (about 50 pages less a day, since I'm no longer commuting and having a clearly delineated lunch break) and using the library for wifi/third place less (since I'm almost always at or very close to home). People whose patterns are more similar to my going-to-the-office patterns would get better value for money than I calculated.

3. I don't know which of the books I read were trade paperbacks and which were mass market paperbacks. Some of them were hardcover, which tend to be more expensive and therefore make my library use even better value for money than I calculated. Someone more ambitious than I could look up the actual prices of all the books I read in 2017 in the print format in which they were available in the month I read them.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

What do you think of the body text colour?

I tweaked the body text of my blog in an attempt to make it more readable.  I'm not sure if I've succeeded.

This is the place to share any thoughts on the matter.