Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Filmed before a live studio audience

Some people dislike TV comedies that are filmed before a live studio audience, because they find the sound of audience laughter disruptive.

It surprises me that people who are my age and older can find this disruptive, because for the longest time it was baseline for comedies. Cosby Show, Cheers, MASH, Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Friends, Seinfeld, All In The Family, The Brady Bunch, Full House, Fresh Prince, even Monty Python - all kinds of major comedies over all eras of 20th century television had a live studio audience or a laugh track.

As moved from childhood to adulthood, I moved from children's television to sitcoms.  I suspect many people made the same transition, since adult (in the sense of "not specifically intended for children") comedy is generally more comprehensible and entertaining to a young person than adult drama. And all the sitcoms were filmed before a live studio audience.

So basically everything that formed my whole concept of what television actually is was filmed before a live studio audience.  And it seems like the same situation would stand for a lot of people.

This is why it surprises me that people whose formative television viewing was on similar shows would find it disruptive or distracting.  It seems like it should be no more disruptive distracting than watching TV in black and white if your first television set was black and white.  It might not be your very favourite format choice, but your brain should pretty much be immune to it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Icy Hot mystery

As I've blogged about before, I absolutely adore Icy Hot for muscle stiffness, but I've noticed something odd.  When I apply Icy Hot to a joint, it makes the adjacent joint a wee bit stiffer.

For example, when I apply it to my shoulder, it makes my elbow a bit stiffer, in that I feel a little something in the elbow and I feel the need to crack it more.  (And when I do crack it, it's louder).   When I apply it to my knee, my snapping hip syndrome gets louder and I become aware of an old injury in the metatarsal area.

If it makes a difference, I have observed this when using the Icy Hot cream, as opposed to the patches.  I haven't used the patches since I discovered the cream, so I can't tell you whether or not it also happens when I use the patches.

This atteinte of the adjacent joints is nearly negligible compared with the relief that Icy Hot brings me, but it's still very mysterious.  Any thoughts?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Half-formed idea: standardized two-step marriage proposal

Something I see from time to time in advice columns is a situation where one partner is ready to get married, and the other partner isn't.  This is often presented as a Serious Relationship Problem, and surprisingly often talked about as a Reason to End the Relationship. 

But one of the things that might happen in a relationship is that one partner is ready to marry before the other partner is.  This doesn't necessarily have to be a problem.  Two people may well have different emotional arcs that end up in the same place.  Everyone who becomes ready to marry was at one point not ready to marry (although, obviously, not being ready to marry doesn't necessarily mean that one day being ready to marry is inevitable), so for one person to be ready to marry before the other isn't necessarily a sign of long-term incompatibility.

There are some people in advice column forums who respond to anything about a partner who isn't proposing with "Well, then you should propose to them!" But that isn't necessarily going to solve the problem.  If the other party isn't yet ready to get married, that creates the awkward situation where they have to decline the marriage proposal, which could be a blow to the relationship. In general, a declined marriage proposal is seen as a setback in a relationship, whereas no marriage proposal yet is seen as a relationship progressing (perhaps normally, perhaps slowly), or perhaps stalled. Declining a marriage proposal is seen as backward movement, whereas not having proposed yet is neutral or slow forward movement.

So I suggest a two-step system:

When one party in the relationship (whom we will call "First") is ready to marry, they inform the other party (whom we will call "Second") through a standardized system/script/ritual.  Under the generally-accepted rules of this system, Second is not required or expected to give any response to the news that First is ready. It's the in-person equivalent of a facebook status update.

However, this means that Second is responsible for making the formal marriage proposal at such time as they are ready (like Penny and Leonard in Big Bang Theory). Second knows they'll get a yes (because First has already given them a yes), so there's no stress or worry about whether the proposal will be accepted.  It becomes a 100% guaranteed positive thing.

I don't really have a good idea for what form the first half of the proposal should take.  It could be as simple as First saying to Second "You're hereby responsible for marriage proposals in this relationship." Extrapolating from my new favourite Polish expression (which I am totally appropriating into English, BTW), First could give Second a toy monkey.  It doesn't really matter, it just needs to be standardized.  And it shouldn't count as an official Phase of the Relationship (like Living Together or Engaged), it's just a notification.

And, of course, if First finds themselves in a position where they want to end the relationship if an engagement isn't forthcoming (which apparently is a feeling some people do have sometimes), they are still allowed to propose to Second.  They just go in knowing they have a higher than average chance of getting a no and having to make difficult decisions from there.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What if the media stopped covering election campaigning?

I've blogged before about my displeasure with media coverage of Toronto elections.  Apart from the length problem (I still maintain they shouldn't start covering municipal elections until September, with voting day in late October), I wonder if a solution might be for media to stop covering the campaign trail completely.

I don't mean that they shouldn't cover elections, I'm just pondering whether it might be better if they didn't follow all the candidates around and report on the speeches they make and activities they do every day.

This would save media outlets a lot of time and resources.  And then they could put this time and resources into analyzing candidates' platforms and incumbents' records and fact-checking their statements, with the goal of providing us with a factual analysis free of spin.  And since the media are no longer spending all their time running around chasing the few candidates they have deemed front-runners, they'd have the time to analyze all the candidates.

Instead of hosting debates, they should conduct in-depth one-on-one interviews with the candidates with a cross-examination level of intensity. For video and audio media, these interviews should not be aired lived, but rather aired after there's been time to fact-check the candidate's statements.

In addition to all of this, print and online media especially should publish primers on the issues.  In doing this, they shouldn't allow the candidates to define the issues and their scope, but rather look at them as objectively as possible, with the goal of informing the uninformed, especially newcomers etc. who haven't been following all the issues for the whole election cycle.  At the municipal level, this would be especially useful for school board trustee elections, because all voters get to vote for school board trustees, but not all of us are students, teachers or parents and therefore we aren't all up on the issues within the school board.

I think the end result could be a far better signal to noise ratio in election coverage, and therefore make it easier for the uninformed to become informed.  It might also be more affordable for media outlets (especially for provincial and federal elections where there's a lot of travelling), and certainly less stressful for reporters.

It would probably also incentivize politicians to focus more on policy than on soundbites, because, under this model, campaign trail soundbites aren't going to get media coverage, but sound policy and knowledgeability (or lack thereof) are.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Does Mozilla actually benefit from me using Firefox?

So there are calls to boycott Firefox because its CEO has made anti-gay political donations.

My question: does my using Firefox actually benefit Mozilla or its CEO in any way?  I didn't pay for it.  I'm not being shown any advertising.  Does it actually have any impact on them?

This question is not purely academic.  As I blogged about before, I don't want to use Chrome because I don't like Google's sneaky attempts to manipulate me into using it.   But if we should be boycotting Firefox too, what am I supposed to do?  Use a subpar browser?  (I've used IE and Opera, and find them both less useful than Firefox or Chrome.)

On one hand, it seems more important to choose not to use Chrome, because my reasons for doing so are directly related to the company's business practices as they affect me as a consumer.  They keep inconveniencing me in an attempt to get me to use their browser, so I shouldn't reward this by using their browser.

On the other hand, you can't let convenience overrule a political boycott, or that completely defeats the purpose of a political boycott.

On the other other hand, if Google so very badly wants me to use Chrome (which users don't pay for either), there must be some benefit to a company if people use their browser.  Although Google and Mozilla have different corporate structures. Google has shareholders and stuff, whereas Mozilla doesn't. The internet tells me that the Mozilla Corporation is not non-profit, but its profits support the Mozilla Foundation, which is.

Normally I'd go ahead with the boycott, but in this case the user-friendly alternative is something I'm already boycotting.  Not sure what to do here.

Any thoughts?

Update: Some info via @AmyRBrown on Twitter (you can see the full conversation here):

A primary revenue source for Mozilla is money paid to them by Google when people access Google via the Firefox search box.  (The FAQ of Mozilla's 2012 Annual Report confirms this, and adds that they also get search box revenue from "Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Amazon, eBay and others".)

So an effective economic boycott would be not to use Google or any other revenue-generating search function in the search box.

Changing the search engine to Duck Duck Go should generate the same results without Google involvement, and there are also unofficial Google toolbar add-ons for Firefox that don't pass through the search box and therefore generate revenues.

I haven't yet figured out if my own preference of Wikipedia in the search bar generates revenues, or if there are other benefits to my using Firefox even if I'm not generating revenues for them.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother finale (contains allusions to spoilers)

When I read the last page of the last Harry Potter book, I was done.  I didn't need to visit the Potterverse any more.  That was the end.  I finished the fanfic stories I was in the middle of at the time, and then no more.  I didn't even watch the movies that came out after the book.  It wasn't a ragequit or anything, it was just closure.  I didn't cease to be a fan, but I just get nothing by going back.  (Fortunately, I had just recently discovered Eddie Izzard then, because Harry Potter was my previous primary fandom, and it would have left a huge gap if my next primary fandom hadn't already fortuitously come along!)

How I Met Your Mother just did the same thing to me.  I'm done.  Nothing gained by going back.  I wouldn't watch a rerun now.  I'm just done.

The ending was satisfyingly done for containing plot points I was dreading, but I'm still slightly mourning the fact that we aren't going to get to hang out with The Mother more.  Which is appropriate, I suppose, but it seemed to really marginalize her with the combination of the pacing and the ultimate resolution of the final episodes.

I'm kind of glad I only recently joined this show. I think I would have had a negative emotional reaction if I'd been following it with bated breath for nine years.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Books read in March 2014


1. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
2. How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
3. American Savage by Dan Savage
4. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


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

The folly of live-tweeting Earth Hour

I was surprised to see the number of people who were promoting Earth Hour by live-tweeting it, i.e by tweeting during actual Earth Hour.

This is totally contrary to the spirit of Earth Hour!  Even if you're not plugged in and are tweeting from a battery-powered device (even if you're making a big show of doing it by candlelight - and why would you need candles when your screen lights up?), the electricity you use will just have to be charged off the grid after you're done. Plus, if you're connected by ethernet or wifi, your modem is also plugged in and using power.

Not to mention that by posting new content during Earth Hour, you're creating incentive for other people to be online during Earth Hour, using their modems and computers or devices, which will also need to be recharged from the grid even if they're not plugged in. If nothing new appeared on the internet during Earth Hour, people wouldn't have any reason to be watching their feed.  By posting, you're part of the problem.

If you don't want to shut down for Earth Hour, that's fine.  I don't do it myself, for the reasons I explained here

But don't claim to be doing Earth Hour if you're still online, even if you did turn out your lights!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wherein I play Carolyn Hax

Hi Carolyn. I've written and re-written this entry. I can't stop compulsively eating at work (where a lot of unhealthy snacks are free) and at home. Eating makes me happy (though fleetingly so). I have no self-control when it comes to putting food in my mouth, especially anything involving carbs and sugar. The worst/best part? Last year I made a major career change and my new path is off to a fantastic start. I use my great work situation as an excuse to let my guard down when it comes to my eating habits. Though, if I'm being completely honest, I'm just effing tired of constantly thinking about my weight and my eating (as I've done since puberty). Eating provides quick bursts of happiness. Whenever I try to amend my diet (not even to restrict calories, just to restrict empty calories), I feel terrible! Maybe not physically but certainly mentally. Saying no to snacks is like forcing myself to suffer. I know that sounds irrational but that's how my brain interprets it. I don't even know what I'm asking you here. I guess: how do I stop using my professional success as an excuse to not pay attention to my shi**y diet and the fact that my weight has spiraled out of control. Literally every time I put something in my mouth, in an effort to avoid self-hate I just think "who cares if I'm fat, I'm a hard worker and that's what matters in life!"
My first thought is to wonder if the unfettered eating is actually a problem.  Perhaps LW has found what does and doesn't actually make them happy, regardless of what society tells us should make us happy. LW states outright that eating provides bursts of happiness and amending their diet feels terrible and feels like suffering.

Carolyn's advice is focused on ways for LW to more successfully eat well and lose weight, but she completely disregards the fact that LW gets happiness from eating and suffers from dieting.  I think it would be better to take an approach that at least acknowledges this.

My first suggestion to LW would be to permit themselves to eat whatever they want with no guilt for a certain defined period of time (maybe two weeks, maybe a month - long enough for the novelty to wear off, short enough that any harmful effects are still reversible).  This is an experiment, and their only responsibility during this time is to gather data by eating whatever they feel like and observing what happens.

After this period of experimentation, LW takes stock.  What happened, and how do they feel about it? Maybe they will be perfectly happy with the outcome.  Maybe they will dislike how much weight they gain.  Maybe they'll discover that they eat less compulsively when they're "allowed" to eat whatever they want in whatever quantities they want.  Maybe they'll discover a threshold where it feels bad physically (this is how I ended up cutting back on sodium - not because I'm supposed to, but because there's a point at which it feels bad).  Maybe they'll be happy with how they feel, but discover they need to buy new clothes and that isn't worth the trouble.

They can then use this information to make an informed decision about whether they should be following Carolyn's advice for approaches to losing weight and watching what they eat, or whether they should be embracing what makes them happy in life, or perhaps some balance in between.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wherein I play Dan Savage

Both these questions are from this Savage Love column:
I have a slowly terminal disease and don't have more than five or six years left. I haven't told my wife, which brings me to my problem. We had lived together for seven years when she cheated on me the first time. We worked things out, we got back together, but we continued to live separately. Then I cheated on her. We got back together again but continued living apart. After a year of therapy, we got married, but again we kept our households separate. Fast-forward one eviction and three years of living in a studio driving each other crazy, and she cheated on me again—this time in our house. I moved out instantly. A few months and a terminal diagnosis later, I don't have the will to file the divorce paperwork. We've talked a few times about trying to figure out how to fix us, but I don't know if I can ride this messed-up roller coaster anymore. On the other hand, I don't want to waste the rest of my life being a divorced fortysomething, but I still feel idiotic trying to fix our fucked-up relationship. She reads your column every week, so if you publish this, I'll have to talk to her about my illness, so at least that won't be an issue. What should I do about us?

Something for LW to think about that Dan Savage didn't mention: who do you want to be your next of kin?

As you're dying, your next of kin will become relevant. They'll have to make decisions on your behalf when you're no longer able to, like whether to donate your organs and when to pull the plug. You'll have to trust them to understand and carry out your wishes.  If you don't designate someone else, they'll probably also have power of attorney and stand to inherit (depending on the laws where you live.)  Even if you make a will, it can be contested if it leaves out the person who's your clear next of kin.

If you're married to your wife, she's your next of kin. How do you feel about that?  Is she the best person for the job?  Or do you not want her doing this job under any circumstances?  Who would be your next of kin if your wife was no longer your wife?  Would that person be a better or worse candidate?  Do you have someone else in mind who would be better at the job?  Or are you just hoping you might find someone better in the next five years?  If you have a job with benefits and those benefits include a survivor's benefit or life insurance or something for your next of kin, how would you feel about your wife getting those things as opposed to your next closest relative?  If the survivor's benefits only go to your spouse, how would you feel about your wife getting them as opposed to nobody getting anything?

If your wife is a better candidate for next of kin than your next-closest relative, that weighs in favour of staying married - especially if you live apart.  If you don't want your wife involved in these things, that weighs very heavily in favour of divorce.  If you want your wife to have power of attorney or inherit but you divorce her, that increases the likelihood of your will being contested by other relatives.  Conversely, if you don't want her involved but stay married, that increases the likelihood of your will being contested by your wife.

This isn't the only factor, and obviously your wife gets a say too, but if you don't want her involved in your caregiving and your estate, you probably shouldn't stay married.  And if you do want her involved in your caregiving and your estate, you should probably consider staying married and perhaps coming to an arrangement of caregiving in exchange for inheritance and otherwise both living your lives as you please.

Are there kinky people interested in BDSM without sex? I'm an early-40s gal living in the Midwest. I'm in a decent-to-great marriage, have two kids, a good life. But my husband is not kinky, not at all. I feel like I've done all I can to get him comfortable with rough sex, power play, etc., but aside from some very reluctant spanking, hair pulling, and a few humiliating (not in a good way) attempts at bondage, our sex life is almost totally vanilla. I enjoy the sex we have, but not being all of who I am sexually is making me resentful, miserable, and desperate. At this point, I'm not even interested in trying to get my husband on board—it obviously makes him uncomfortable, and I think he's just been hoping my desires would go away. They have not, of course, and will not. But I can't see breaking up my marriage over this! My desires for intense physical play, D/s, role-play, etc. are only getting stronger. Is it even worth trying to find people to play with who would be okay with no sex? I think I could be happy staying monogamous if I could just get some of my needs met elsewhere. I'm going insane, but I don't know if this is a thing, and research online has not been helpful. Is there any hope?
LW doesn't say if she's dominant or submissive.  If she's dominant, nothing I have to say is relevant and there's no point in reading further.  But if she's submissive, I have a suggestion: as an experiment, try non-sexual (or vanilla-sexual) D/s, without the B or the S&M. 

My first thought on reading the letter, as someone whose preferences are strictly vanilla, is how much it would suck to have a partner who wants me to beat them and hurt them and humiliate them.  I don't want to do that!  I like my partner!

Then I thought how ironic it would be (if LW is in fact submissive) to have your allegedly submissive partner trying to get you to do stuff you don't want to do.  If they really are submissive, shouldn't they be doing what you want them to do, not vice versa?  There are things I want my partner to do, they just don't involve violence or pain or humiliation.

There must be something LW's husband wants her to do. It probably isn't painful or degrading. It might not even be sexual. So what if they try, as an experiment, making a rule that for a specific limited period of time (an hour or an afternoon) LW has to do whatever her husband tells her?  He might tell her to bake a cake.  He might tell her to do their taxes.  He might tell her verb his noun in that one particular way he likes best. 

This is a more emotionally safe way to experiment with the D/s dynamic, because the person who's less comfortable with the dynamic is in complete control over how far it goes. It's possible that the husband might enjoy it if he's actually in charge and they're doing things he actually enjoys, and it's possible that if he enjoys it he may develop an interest in pushing it further, or at least expanding it from a one-time experiment to something more frequent or maybe even a lifestyle. It's possible LW might find that being truly submissive to her husband's actual needs scratches that itch, or at least scratches it enough for the time being that she's okay with sticking with this for now and seeing whether it evolves.

Of course, it's also possible that LW needs physical pain to get off sexually, in which case this suggestion wouldn't work.  But they'd be no worse off than they are now.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Answering advice columns with conspiracy theories

My 35th birthday is coming up about a month from now. I don’t have much in the way of family and friends to celebrate with (we are new to the city we live in), so I haven’t made any plans yet. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it until today. I’m not sure what I want to do this year, but the reason it was brought to my attention today is that I just received an email invitation to attend my sister's boyfriend’s surprise birthday party next month (they live in the same city as us, but have been here for a few years longer and are much more outgoing and social than my husband and me).  Except...

My sister scheduled her boyfriend's surprise birthday party for my birthday! This is logistically understandable because our birthdays (his and mine) are five days apart, and my birthday is the Saturday night that week. However, there is absolutely no mention on the invitation of it being my birthday too, and obviously I am not being jointly included in the “surprise” part of the party. I would gladly go to the party if it was being held any other day, but I know I will resent all the attention, gifts, etc. being directed towards him by his friends and family, while the fact that it is actually my birthday is either ignored or unknown by other party goers.

I texted my sister to ask her if she realized the party was scheduled for my birthday, and her response was: "Yes I know I meant to apologize about that. It was the only weekend we could do it. I hope you can come! But I understand if you can’t."

My solution would be to go away for the night or the weekend, but we are a bit short on cash these days. What would you recommend I do in this situation? Should I go the party and suck it up by not saying anything about my birthday, or should I plan something else for that night?

Conspiracy theory: the letter-writer's sister is actually planning a surprise birthday party for the letter-writer.  Pretending it's a party for her boyfriend is the perfect cover, because it provides an explanation for any party-planning she's caught doing!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The real problem with The Agenda's guest booking

Steve Paikin's blog post on the difficulties The Agenda has been experiencing with getting female guests has been getting a lot of attention, but buried in this post is a far bigger problem for everyone who watches The Agenda and/or trusts its journalism:
No man will say, "Sorry can't do your show tonight, I'm not an expert in that particular aspect of the story." They'll get up to speed on the issue and come on.
 In the graphic at the bottom of the page, they describe it as follows:

The female character in the cartoon is saying "I'm not sure I'm the right person for this", and the male character is saying "I can read up on this. I'd be happy to join you."

This is a problem.

The problem is not, as Steve Paikin suggests, that the female character declines to go on TV because she doesn't feel she's an expert.  The problem is that the male character isn't an expert and is just cramming for the interview, but they let him go on TV anyway!

I was shocked to see such a widely-respected journalist as Steve Paikin suggest that agreeing to go on TV and be interviewed as an expert when you aren't actually an expert and are just going to read up on the subject in the short time before the interview is laudable.  Because it is not laudable. Rather, it does a huge disservice to viewers and society as a whole.

If I'm taking the time to watch a TV interview about a subject, I've already read up on it.  That's how I know I'm interested enough in it to involve myself in the more time-consuming process of watching a video.

If the person being interviewed is just reading up on it too, as opposed to having long-standing independent and practical expertise, it's quite likely that they're reading a lot of the same stuff I am. So not only do they have a far more limited pool of knowledge than an actual expert, their knowledge is closer to mine than an actual expert's.  And, of course, when they're interviewed, we only see a fraction of their knowledge.  So I'm tuning into hear what the experts say, and I'm hearing someone parroting a small fraction of my own knowledge. So not only am I not learning, I'm getting an over-inflated sense of my own expertise (I already knew everything that expert on TV said!)

Giving people an over-inflated sense of their own expertise is detrimental to society as a whole.  I'm probably not the only one watching TV who is not an expert but has read up on the subject.  If everyone who is doing the same thing comes away feeling like we already know enough about the subject, we'll probably stop reading up on it.  And then we'll end up in a situation where we're all taking action and making decisions while underinformed, without even knowing that we're underinformed.

We've all seen what harm voting while underinformed can do.  The situation will become even worse if more engaged and activist people who make a concerted effort to be informed - by watching The Agenda, for example - come away underinformed unbeknownst to themselves.

As for the original problem of prospective female guests accepting far less frequently than prospective male guests, the solution becomes quite clear if we look at the situation in broader terms, without any explicit or tacit gender markers:

The Agenda is a TV show. They've noticed a recurring pattern where people they want to interview are unable to appear on the TV show, either because they do not have an opening in their schedule for the time of the interview or because they're unable to be prepared for the interview by the time of the interview.

Therefore, the solution is longer lead times.

If The Agenda gives the people they wish to interview more time and more warning, they can clear their schedule (including things like finding childcare, if applicable) and get themselves properly prepared (including things like getting their hair done, if applicable).

The Agenda is not a breaking news report, it's an in-depth interview and analysis program.  I'd rather see The Agenda interview the best expert weeks after the story broke than interview someone who wasn't up on the issue but crammed so they could be on TV the same day the story broke.

On top of that, I find myself wondering how I, as a viewer, can trust The Agenda knowing that they accept interviewees who aren't true experts but rather simply cram on the topic before the interview?  How do I know whether the person being interviewed actually has true in-depth knowledge, as opposed to having just read some stuff about the topic just like I have?  If everything they mention is something I already know, does that mean I know everything I need to? Or does it just mean that the alleged "expert" doesn't know enough?  If what they're saying sounds completely bizarre and ridiculous and incompatible with the world as I understand it, does that mean I need to question my whole understanding of the world?  Or does that just mean that they're ignorant but willing to appear on TV?

This is compounded by the blog post's invalidating dismissiveness of prospective guests' not wanting to appear on TV as experts because they don't feel they're actually experts.  Why would The Agenda trust someone to appear on TV as an expert informing the public about a complex subject, but not trust that same person to say "I'm not a good enough expert to do this job. You need someone who is more of an expert than I am"? It's quite likely the subject is far more complex than a TV producer perceives and there are layers of expertise that the producer can't even begin to fathom - which is fine, the TV producer has their own job to do.  But if you don't trust your would-be expert's expertise, why are you inviting them to appear on TV and educate the rest of us?  If you trust them that much, you should be taking them at their word and finding someone better.

If The Agenda can't get the guests they want because of scheduling-related issues, they should produce their shows with longer lead times.  If the experts they originally seek out tell them they need better experts and they can't get enough better experts to do the shows they want to do, they should do fewer shows - maybe one or twice a week rather than every day.  But they're doing their audience - and the public as a whole - a huge disservice by airing shows with people whose best qualification is that they're willing to be on TV.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

So why does Ron Swanson work for the government anyway?

In last week's Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson spent a day renovating some office space that needed to be renovated (sending away the contractors whose actual job it was), and said it was the best day of working for the government he'd ever had.

This has me wondering: why does he work for the government in the first place?

Ron is skilled at and enjoys building things and fixing things.  He also believes this is an honourable thing to do with one's time and energy.  By contrast, he does not enjoy government work, thinks it's not honourable, and thinks it's a waste of time and energy.

As the character develops over the seasons, it becomes apparent that being honourable and living authentically is important to him, and that he respects people who stand up for and work for what they believe in.

So why would he betray his core beliefs for a job when he could easily earn money doing something that he believes in, enjoys, and is good at?  (On top of the fact that it's been established that he's independently wealthy?)

I know that the character of Ron Swanson originated because the series creators heard of a a real life libertarian government official who doesn't believe in government.  But if they're going to develop the character to be authentic and honourable (which I do think was a good character decision - I think the show started getting good when Ron started being honourable and Leslie started being competent) they'd have to explain why he's doing this job he doesn't believe in.

It would be a lot more plausible if he simply needed work, like everyone does.  Sometimes  people have to do things that don't align perfectly with their beliefs in order to put food on the table.  That would be interesting, and realistic, and perhaps even a sympathetic character point depending on how it's written.  But as it is, they've written themselves into a plot hole.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Typos and word counts

Sometimes I'm proofreading a translation or looking back at an old blog post, and I'm  shocked to discover that I typed "their" when I was supposed to use "there".  WTF?  I know the difference full well!  Why did the wrong one come out of my fingers?

Of course, my thoughts then turned to dementia.  I never made these mistakes when I was a kid in school!  Am I losing my mind??

But in the shower this morning, I realized there's a major difference between what I'm doing now and what I was doing in school: in my adult life, between translating and writing and blogging and emailing and chatting and assorted casual internet use, I invariably write thousands and thousands of words every day.  I probably write more words in a day in my adult life than I'd write in a semester of any given class when I was in school.

I guess they had us write so little in school because the teachers had to mark all of it. If each teacher taught 100 students in any given semester (because it's plausible and makes the math easy) and they had the students write even 1,000 words a day, they'd have to read and mark 100,000 words a day, which would be rather a lot to do every single day.

But this means that, in adult life, I can make as many stupid brainfarts in a day as I did in a semester in school before I have to start worrying about losing my faculties.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Saving face

Walking home today, I saw a lady walking two dogs on a patch of grass near my building, and another lady started yelling out the window at her to pick up her dogs' poo.

I have no horse in this race - I neither own a dog nor use the grass - but the way the lady was yelling out the window inspired in me a feeling of "I don't want her to win!" and my mind, unbidden, promptly started brainstorming ways to make window-yelling lady feel bad or to give dog-walking lady a perfectly good reason to walk away without picking up her dogs' poo. I pondered whether there was a way to make one of the dogs run away, and then Dog-Walking Lady would have to chase him.  I calculated whether I could lob a dog poo high enough that it would land in Window-Yelling Lady's stupid yelly face.  I contemplated yelling back at Window-Yelling Lady "The dogs aren't even finished pooing yet!" (Which was true.)  But I couldn't think of anything that would be effective, not escalate the situation, and not make me look crazier than Window-Yelling Lady.  So I just kept walking and didn't see how the situation ultimately played out

But this provided a perfect example of something I learned back in my professional writing classes: you have to give your interlocutor an opportunity to save face.  The way Window-Yelling Lady was making a big scene, trying to embarrass Dog-Walking Lady, and just kept yelling and yelling in a way that suggested her intention was to keep yelling until Dog-Walking Lady picked up the poo, created a situation where picking up the poo would be appearing to let Window-Yelling Lady win.  If Dog-Walking Lady had waited until her dogs both finished their business and picked up their poo - even if this were here intention all along - it would look like she did it in response to Window-Yelling Lady's yelling.  There was no way for Dog-Walking Lady to give Window-Yelling Lady or any other random onlooker the impression that she was intending the whole time to pick up after her dogs as soon as they actually finished pooing.  As a result, because she has no way of not looking bad, the temptation increases to exact vengeance on the person who's making her look bad by leaving the poo behind.

However, if, instead of yelling through the window and publicly embarrassing Dog-Walking Lady, Window-Yelling Lady had instead chosen an approach that appeared to give Dog-Walking Lady the benefit of the doubt - for example, offer her a baggie and say "It's the worst when they just have to go and you don't have a baggie, isn't it?"  This not only saves face for Dog-Walking Lady by treating her like a perfectly reasonable dog owner, it creates a scenario where Dog-Walking Lady would have to introduce assholicness into the situation by walking away and leaving the poo behind even though the nice neighbour lady had just helped her out by giving her a baggie.

It also reminded me of something that comes up in advice column forums.  Sometimes, for letters dealing with fraught social situations where one party is not exhibiting the desired behaviour, the advice columnist or various commenters might suggest an approach that presents the desired behaviour as a pro tip (e.g. "We've found it helpful to respond actionable emails acknowledging that we've received them - just a quick "Thanks!" will do - so then the other person doesn't have to worry about whether we got it.") or by requesting it as a bit of a favour in response to a personal quirk or a one-off situation (e.g. "Could you do me a favour and let me know you got this email? The mail server has been erratic lately.") However, there are always people who always argue against these more subtle approaches, saying you should simply tell the person to engage in the desired behaviour ("Stop not answering your email!"), regardless of whether you have any authority over them, often even saying that you should tell them to engage in the desired behaviour pre-emptively (the email example doesn't work for this one, but it does apply to my mother's habit of telling me to hang up my coat before I've even taken off my coat, or telling me to say thank-you before I've even opened the present.)

I've been trying for some time to articulate why I don't think this approach would be productive, and Window-Yelling Lady showed me why.  It creates a win-lose situation, and labels the person you want to engage in the desired behaviour as Someone Who Won't Engage In The Desired Behaviour.  If they do it, it looks like they only did it just because you told them to, and therefore your nagging is necessary.  If they don't do it, it makes them look like Someone Who Won't Engage In The Desired Behaviour, and therefore your nagging is necessary.  It doesn't leave them any room to be seen as Being Good or give them any credit for their positive actions, so their only remaining incentive for the desired behaviour (other than the fact that it's right, which the nagger obviously doesn't believe is sufficient incentive) is to stop the nagger from nagging, which probably isn't going to work anyway because the nagger is going to think their nagging caused the desired behaviour.

But if you allow them to save face, it creates a win-win situation: you've extracted the desired behaviour from them, and they get to look like they're doing it on their own initiative.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Downton braindump (full spoilers up to the end of season 4)

- As you may have expected, I'm disappointed that they didn't show us Edith's pregnancy and time in Geneva.  There's so much of interest there!  Did they need a cover story or did they just keep quietly to themselves?  Did Edith have to wear a fake wedding ring?  Did they need to hire new servants for their time in Geneva to make sure that gossip wouldn't spread?  Did Rosamund take her lady's maid?  If so, how did she ensure her silence?  If not, how did she explain the whole "I'm going on a trip and not taking you with me" thing?

- Jack's breakup with Rose is another story that they told rather than showing, but I did think the conversation between Jack and Mary was a good character moment for both of them.

- The problem with Mary having all the suitors is that if she marries someone, she will become the lady of their estate with all the related responsibilities, when she already has the responsibility of helping keep Downton well-run so it's secure for George's future.  I can't see her just turning her back on Downton, but I also can't see an aristocratic marriage in that era working out with the lady of the house's primary responsibility being another estate.  Not to mention that if she has a son with any future husband, that son would inherit the husband's estate.

- If Lord Grantham dies and Lady Mary hasn't remarried, what would her title be?  Functionally she'd be a Dowager Countess, but she's never been a Countess because you have to be the wife of an Earl.  Would she get some bigger title than simply Lady Mary?

- Actually, if Lord Grantham died right now, would Cora also be a Dowager Countess?  If there can only be one Dowager (and what with Violet obviously being immortal), what would Cora be?

- Speaking of Lord Grantham, I think it's an excellent writing decision to make him incompetent.  People have criticized the trope (often found in sitcoms and such) of the father being an incompetent buffoon (although Lord Grantham isn't a buffoon), but I think it's really interesting in this era and context because his decisions have so much impact on so many people.  If a sitcom father does something foolish, maybe he blows up a barbecue.  If Lord Grantham does something foolish, the livelihood of everyone in the house (and maybe the whole estate?) is harmed.  So when he didn't want Mary to be involved in running the estate (with that paternalistic "for her own good" tone), this was actually a threat to the estate.

- When Thomas catches Branson showing the teacher around the house, Branson makes a point of explaining the situation to him and worrying about whether he misinterpreted it.  But when Lord Grantham comments "I heard you had a guest", Branson simply says "Yes I did."  That seems bass-ackwards to me.  If Branson somehow felt that he owed Thomas an explanation, surely he'd owe Lord Grantham (who actually owns the house!) an explanation!  Even if he'd collected his wits and wasn't going to fall into a stuttering apology/explanation, he could have just thrown in a very casual, "Yes, Miss Bunting the schoolteacher is very interested in our local art and history and architecture, so I was showing her around."  Cora and Isobel and the Dowager Countess already know that he is friends with the schoolteacher, and even if they do evolve in the direction of a romance eventually that makes it look more organic, rather than having a secret assignation at his dead wife's parents' house while they're away.

- Why did the season finale mention that Mrs. Levinson's lady's maid had quit and that Cora had asked the Dowager Countess not to travel with a lady's maid and then not do anything with that information?  They should have showed us some chaos with only two lady's maids for four ladies (plus Edith, plus Rose who was actually being presented to court and therefore would have wanted to look her best.)  They should have at least showed them with slightly different hair styles than usual!  (And speaking of which, who did Mrs. Levinson's hair etc. all during the ocean crossing if she wasn't travelling with a lady's maid?)

Ideas for spinoffs:

1. A prequel covering the early days of Robert and Cora's marriage.  A benign marriage of convenience isn't something we really see portrayed on TV or in fiction in general, and it would be interesting to explore.

2. If Tom decides to move to America like he's mentioned in passing (although he hasn't raised the idea lately, there should be a sequel where, after WWII has conveniently killed off anyone who needs to die to make this happen, Baby Sybbie, now a twenty-something woman raised in the US by her working-class Irish father, inherits Downton. in all the mess of postwar Britain. Daisy is the cook, Anna is the housekeeper, and Thomas is the butler.  (I haven't figured out where Mr. Bates is, but Thomas would be more interesting as the butler because he's evil but he's on Sybbie's side.  And I know Anna isn't on a housekeeper track, but we don't have any other named maids.

3. Fifteen or twenty years in the future, George begins a flirtation with Edith's daughter, not knowing that she is his biological cousin.  Edith tries to stop him, but he assumes she's just a snobbish old aunt. This could also have an interesting "everything dies and the illegitimate daughter inherits" denouement.  Or maybe everyone but Edith dies, and then she reveals herself to her daughter.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Books read in February 2014

New books:

1. Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley
2. The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II by Charles Glass
3. Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
4. Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay
5. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

From my ongoing comfort-food reread of In Death:

1. Imitation in Death
2. Remember When
3. Divided in Death

Dell XPS 15 / NVIDIA GeForce GT 435M / external monitor issues

I've recently had some curious computer behaviour that appear loosely related to my video card+external monitor  combination.  I have no idea if they're related to each other, I have no idea if this is the whole story, I have no idea if there's some other underlying issue I can't see.  I'm just documenting what I know here for googleability in case it's helpful to someone.

The computer: a Dell XPS 15, running Windows 7
The video card: NVIDIA GeForce GT 435M
The display: a Dell E178FP LCD monitor, connected to the computer via a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter (because the computer doesn't have VGA output and the monitor only has VGA input. However, sometimes I unplug the external monitor and instead use the built-in screen, which has widescreen dimensions.

The monitor blinking out problem

Every once in a while, it seemed randomly, the monitor would blink out, as though it had gone into sleep mode even though I don't have a sleep mode set.  Moving the mouse or pressing the keyboard wouldn't work and opening up the laptop wouldn't even work.  It would be completely frozen and I'd have to do a hard reboot. The appearance of this problem correlated with appearance of the monitor occasionally flickering when I was shredding paper (about 3 feet away from the monitor) and with difficulty switching back and forth between laptop screen and external monitor - when I connected the external monitor, it wouldn't pick up the picture (even when I pressed Windows key + P).  It would take multiple pluggings and unpluggings to make it work, and sometimes even a reboot.  And it got worse as time passed.

After this had been going on for some time, I noticed that the monitor blinked out when the Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter got jiggled.  I therefore bought a new adapter, and the problem stopped happening.

The Windows 7 Action Centre mystery

Shortly after I bought the new Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter that could withstand jiggling, an alert appeared in my Windows 7 Action Centre saying "Solve a problem with NVIDIA Graphics Driver."  However, when I clicked on it, it said "This solution could not be downloaded."  It's been saying that for months, always when I did in fact have a full and active internet connection.  The problem that it claims to be solving correlates with times when the computer crashed because of the adapter problem, so I don't know that there is in fact a driver issue (when this first appeared, my driver was the most recent one available).

The bad Windows Update

I don't routinely install all Windows updates, because in the past I've had problems with them conflicting or causing problems. Once my setup works, I prefer to keep it that way.  But, just recently, I noticed an update called "nVidia Graphics Adapter WDDM1.1, Graphics Adapter WDDM1.2, Graphics Adapter WDDM1.3,  released in October, 2013". I thought this might be the NVIDIA solution that the Action Centre was trying and failing to deliver, so I installed it.

And it completely disabled my external monitor.  No matter how many times I unplugged and replugged and switched back and forth between the monitors, nothing would display on my external monitor.

So I did a system restore, and the external monitor started working again.

The takeaway
(to the best of my knowledge):

- If your external monitor is connected using a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter and you lose monitor signal, freezing the computer, try replacing the adapter.
- If this has happened and there's a useless Solve a problem with NVIDIA Graphics Driver" notice in your Windows Action Centre, this might be why.
- If you have installed a Windows update called "nVidia Graphics Adapter WDDM1.1, Graphics Adapter WDDM1.2, Graphics Adapter WDDM1.3,  released in October, 2013" and lost the use of your external monitor, try undoing the update.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Once again, a clever detail in the most recent Dexter book (spoiler-free)

When I first saw the Dexter TV series, I thought Michael C. Hall was too attractive for the role of Dexter. I've been reading the Dexter series since the first book came out, and I didn't see the character as anywhere near as conventionally attractive as Michael C. Hall.

So I was quite delighted to see, in Double Dexter, that Dexter seemed to have noticed for the first time that he's rather handsome. That totally resolve that very minor, completely subjective, inconsistency between the books and the casting - Dexter didn't seem handsome on paper because he's a non-omniscient narrator and he never thought to notice before!

Something similar happened with the most recent book.  In Dexter by Design, Dexter says "Of course, for some bizarre reason, we don't have a National Registry of Who Your Friends Are".  As I pointed out when I read it, Facebook serves that function.

And in the most recent book, Dexter's Final Cut, Dexter and Debra are shown Facebook by a civilian, and it turns out they weren't previously aware of it!  It doesn't address why they weren't aware of it (maybe the books are set a few years ago?) but it does make it apparent that it wasn't a tool they had in previous books.

I love how this author closes tiny little plot holes that aren't even really plot holes!