Thursday, April 30, 2015

Books read in April 2015

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emotions are weird

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

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

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

Except of course it was.

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

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

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

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

Emotions are weird.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The first camper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Legally-mandated helicopter parenting vs. children's literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ontario has destreamed Grade 9 at least once before

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

I know, I was there.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The first tourist

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

In which Google messes up and gives me a scare

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

So I googled retinol taste in mouth.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Mammogram after ultrasound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 03, 2015

Improving upon the parking space management company idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books read in March 2015

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

Things that I learned about having a mammogram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why copayments for medical appointments are a bad idea: a breast lump story

When conducting a routine breast exam during my annual physical, my doctor detected something on the armpit side of my left breast that wasn't present on the right side.  He ordered a breast ultrasound, which found some of my  lymph nodes in that area were larger than perhaps they should be.  A mammogram was then ordered, which found that a few individual lymph nodes were enlarged, but there were no malignancies or other problems.  I was therefore instructed to return in six months for another breast ultrasound to see if the lymph nodes in question returned to normal.

While I was in the middle of this process, Steve Paikin posted a blog post sharing his doctor's idea for copayments for each medical appointment.  I commented on that post expressing my concern that the majority of medical appointments I get aren't even my idea but rather are required by red tape (I've previously blogged about that here), but this breast lump diagnosis process was an even better example.

During this little adventure, I had five appointments in a nine-day period (and a minimum of three more if I opt to follow up in six months as recommended), none of which I actually wanted or would have thought to request for myself.

I only got the annual physical because it's the price of admission for getting my birth control renewed. I'd be more than happy to buy my birth control over the counter (as some have recommended should be possible for public health purposes), but I have no choice but to go to my doctor and get the recommended screenings if I want a new prescription.

I didn't think the thing my doctor found was a problem - to my touch it felt just like a normal part of my breast anatomy. After reading up on breast cysts, I didn't think getting a potential breast cyst diagnosed was especially important - they're not a problem, most often non-actionable, and quite often go away by themselves. That area of my breast is squishy and mobile, it's nothing like the description of hard, immoveable lumps that I've always been told indicate possible cancer.  But I went along because it's a quick, easy, non-intrusive test and it was probably faster to get the test than to argue.  And, I figured, once the test shows it's nothing, my doctor will be more likely in the future to take me at my word when I say that's just how my breast is.

After the test, I had to go to the doctor for test results, which I think is a suboptimal way of doing things. I'd rather have the results emailed directly to me, and schedule an appointment with the doctor if I had any questions. But my doctor's policy is that they only contact you with results if action is required, so if I didn't go for that follow-up I'd never learn what action was apparently required.

On an intellectual level, I didn't think the mammogram was necessary as a follow-up to the ultrasound either.  After reading up on breast ultrasounds, I didn't see why a mammogram would be helpful or informative as a follow-up to an ultrasound - all the information I found talked about how ultrasounds saw things that mammograms didn't see.  But, frankly, I was scared into it.  Getting a phone call telling me I needed a mammogram (when this wasn't on my "things that might happen" list) was shocking and disconcerting.  I have it mentally categorized as a "cancer test", so it triggered fears of cancer, and I went along with the test to rule out cancer.

And, again, I had to go to the doctor for the mammogram results even though they were clear to me and I didn't need any help with interpretation.  Because I have no way of getting the results without going to the doctor, I had to take that appointment or I would never have received confirmation that there were no malignancies.

So that's five appointments, all of which were required by my doctor as opposed to by me, none of which I would ever have asked for myself if it were completely up to me.  And if I follow up in six months, I'll need three more (one with my doctor to get the ultrasound requisition, one at the imaging clinic for the ultrasound, and one with  my doctor for the ultrasound results.)  I'm really disinclined to follow up - it feels like a fishing expedition - but I'm concerned about being considered a non-compliant patient if I don't, and I do need my doctor's goodwill to keep getting my contraception.

At this point, some of you are thinking "Breast lumps are serious business!  It's good and important that you got it checked out - you really shouldn't skimp on that sort of thing!"

If that's the case, that's a very good reason why there shouldn't be a copay for each appointment.  A copay would disincentivize patients like me from following up on lumps in their breasts, or perhaps even having these lumps detected in the first place.

Besides all that, before they can even consider a copay, they'd have to streamline the process so that fewer appointments are required by red tape.  For example, as I mentioned above, they shouldn't make you go in to see the doctor to get your test results.  It would be much more efficient to just email them to the patient when emailing them to the doctor, and the patient can contact the doctor if they have any question.  When I'm doing medical translations, I find it a fairly simple matter to google up any terminology I don't understand and the implications of the test results become apparent once I've worked out the meaning of all the words.  If they want to cut down on the number of appointments, they need to at least start by eliminating unnecessary appointments like test results that can just be replaced by a simple email!

At this point, some of you are thinking "That would be hideously irresponsible!  Many people can't accurately interpret medical results and there's all kinds of ridiculous information on the internet! People who aren't medical professionals need the guidance of medical professionals."

If that's the case, that's another very good reason why there shouldn't be a copay for each appointment. A copay would disincentivize patients like me from discussing our test results with our doctors, and instead leave us making decision based on our haphazard informal education and Google.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"But I made it just for you!"

I'm sure by now you've seen Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess's post called "Consent: Not Actually That Complicated".
If you’re still struggling, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.

If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?

They might say “Yes please, that’s kind of you” and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Sometimes people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s ok for people to change their mind, and you are still not entitled to watch them drink it even though you went to the trouble of making it.


If someone said “yes” to tea around your  house last saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST WEEK”, or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST NIGHT”.
The blogger is clearly setting up the mundane analogy with a cup of tea to quite effectively demonstrate how ridiculous it is not to respect someone's "no".

But what struck me when I first read this is that I've seen people actually, in real life, take similar offence to similar mundane everyday things.  This often (but not always) happens with parents and their kids, and often (but not always) involves food.  The offerer (often the parent) does something (often making food) that the offeree (often the kid) doesn't want and/or didn't ask for, then complains that the offeree doesn't want/take/eat/love it. Especially in a parent-kid scenario, the offerer has been known to scold the offeree for not wanting/taking/eating/loving it, or force/coerce the offeree into going through the motions of taking/eating/using the thing. And, especially in a food-related scenario, there seems to be a rather loud school of thought that etiquette requires putting on a show of taking/eating/using the thing, and that quietly abstaining is actively rude.

Now of course as adults, dealing with peers, sometimes we may find it's strategic to make the deliberate choice of putting on a show of appreciation in service of fostering the interpersonal relationship in the long term, and then just quietly go home and make our own damn cup of tea just the way we like it. (Just like, as adults, sometimes we may choose to consent to an act of intimacy that we aren't quite dripping with enthusiasm about in the service of fostering the interpersonal relationship in the long term.)

But, as adults, we understand that this is an option that one may choose to exercise, not a broadly-applicable expectation or a baseline requirement of social behaviour.  Kids are still working out, mostly from example, what constitutes broadly-applicable expectations and baseline requirements of social behaviour.

And when you're dealing with kids who are still developing their framework for what constitutes normal human behaviour and what constitutes reasonable expectations for people to have of each other, it could be detrimental to normalize the idea that you're Being Bad if you say no to something you didn't want in the first place.  And it could also be detrimental to normalize the idea that you're entitled to a positive response to your unwanted and unsolicited solely on the grounds that you presumptuously took the initiative.

If parents want to raise kids who respect other people's "no", and if parents want to raise who understand that if someone disrespects their "no" it isn't an act of love, maybe they should start by keeping an eye on the tone with which they offer their kids a cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Signs I'm getting old

Baby Cousin 1.0 and Baby Cousin 3.0 are brothers, just a year and a half apart in age. I've noticed that sometimes when I mention one or the other of them in conversation, I use the wrong name - I call Baby Cousin 1.0 by Baby Cousin 3.0's name or vice versa.

In the past year, I've noticed this happening quite a few times.  I'll be talking about one person, and refer to them by the name of another person with similar characteristics.  For example,  I found a picture of Fairy Goddaughter when she was 9 months old and said aloud to myself "Aww, look at [Baby Cousin 2.0]", (Baby Cousin 2.0 being a 9-month-old girl).  Or when mentioning an uncle, I'll use the name of another uncle (who is the first uncle's brother).

When I was a kid, older adults (especially my grandparents' age) would mix up names like this from time to time.  I thought they were actually getting the people mixed up or forgetting the people's names, and their response when their errors came to light didn't disabuse me of this notion.

However, when I do this myself, I'm not forgetting names or mixing people up.  I know with absolute certainty which baby cousin was born first and which was born second, and I can even tell you their dates of birth and distinguishing characteristics and recent accomplishments.  This isn't like when I first started my job and got the names of the two petite francophone ladies of a certain age confused and didn't realize I had the names wrong until one lady retired.  There's no confusion or uncertainty whatever in this case.  It's just that sometimes the wrong word comes out of my mouth.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Idea for a new economic indicator

This post was inspired by, but is not directly related to, this article.

When talking about whether the population as a whole is making economic gains or losses, people often talk about middle class vs. low income vs. high income, or they look at average or median incomes for the population as a whole and for various demographics.  Less often, but sometimes, they talk about the ratio of income to tuition to housing prices. (The Globe and Mail has a useful comparison tool.)

It occurs to me that another useful indicator would be to look at changes in income over time with people who bring various levels of education, skills and experience to the table.  For example, how has the income level of a person with an undergraduate degree and 10 years of work experienced evolved over the years?  What about a newly-minted Ph.D.?  What about a student working their way through college?  What about people who have been freelancing for 5 years?

It might be useful to get somewhat specific (Is the person with an undergrad degree and 10 years of work experience a translator or a teacher or a computer program?), but the data would cease to be comparable if you got too specific (I don't know how informative it would be to track the income of social media specialists or FORTRAN programmers over decades).

If the data is available, it would also be interesting to track negative factors.  How has the income of people who were laid off one year ago evolved?  (i.e. were they more or less likely to get new jobs within a year in previous decades?)  What's the situation of people who started a business within the past two years?  What about people who are involuntary entrepreneurs (i.e. they didn't want to start a business, but couldn't get hired)?

I think this would fill in some blanks, and it has the potential to draw attention to certain problems that may be hidden by the other, more commonly used indicators.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Things They Should Invent in Fiction: Getting To Know You magic spell

A trope that exists in fiction - especially fantasy genres where magic is present - is the love potion.  You get the object of your affection to ingest the love potion, and they fall madly in love with you!  Of course, the problem is that this will never be true love, because it's just the effects of the potion (e.g. Merope Gaunt in Harry Potter).

It occurred to me that what these makers of magic in fictional universes should invent instead is a "Getting To Know You" spell. You cast the spell on the object of your affection, and they instantly know you - your likes and dislikes, hopes and dream, everything that you need to learn about a person to know if they're a good match and to fall in love with them.

In fiction, the protagonist and the love interest often fall in love after plot points allow them to get past their preconceptions and get to know each other's real selves.  (And, in real life, people suffering from unrequited love often feel like this would happen if the opportunity would only arise.) 

At this point, you're probably thinking "But that would ruin the story! They'd get to know each other and fall in love instantly and then there's be no story to tell!"

But what it actually does it open up whole new story avenues!

What happens if the protagonist casts a Getting To Know You spell on their love interest, and this doesn't cause the love interest to become interested in them?

What if someone casts a Getting To Know You spell on the protagonist, but they aren't interested?  And suddenly they have all this knowledge of some random person they're not interested in?

What if the protagonist casts a Getting To Know You spell on the love interest and the love interest appears by all signs to fall in love with the protagonist, but never casts at Getting To Know You back on the protagonist, so the protagonist doesn't know the love interest as well as the love interest knows the protagonist?  Would this mean the love interest is up to something nefarious?

What if spies started trying to beguile their targets into casting a Getting To Know You spell on them in the hopes of learning their secrets, or at least making them more manipulable?

What if the spells aren't reversible, and casting them is a Big Life Step?

What if the spells are reversible, but you have to go on a quest to acquire a MacGuffin in order to reverse them?

And the person you thought was your love interest but who is in fact nefarious and now knows everything about you is trying to use this knowledge to hinder your quest?

In a universe where magic exists and the pitfalls of love potions have been proven, the next logical step would be for someone to come up with a Getting To Know You spell.  I think this would open up new and interesting story avenues.

Monday, March 09, 2015


There is a cigarette pack on my balcony.

This is noteworthy because I don't smoke, and no one has ever smoked on my balcony in the entire history of this building.

This has actually happened a few times over the years - random cigarette packs or cigarette butts ending up on my balcony - and it turns out the wind blew them there.  They always show up on a significantly windy day, and sometimes even disappear overnight. (I'm sure as hell not going out on my high balcony on a cold, windy winter day to pick up someone else's dirty cigarette litter, so sometimes they're there for a few days.)

But this makes me wonder about criminal evidence.  If detectives were investigating me, they could logically conclude that someone has smoked on my balcony.  They could also reasonably conclude that the person whose DNA is on the cigarette has been on my balcony.  If the person who smoked the cigarette ended up dead or something, I could turn out to be a person of interest just because of the vagaries of the wind.

From time to time, a hair falls out of my head.  I often find them on the floor of my apartment, but surely they sometimes fall out when I'm outdoors too.  And if a cigarette pack can be picked up by the wind and blown onto my balcony, a loose hair can certainly also be picked up by the wind and blown somewhere, maybe even further away.  It could also stick to someone's coat or shoes and be carried into their home or something. So if I was abducted or murdered and the police were looking for evidence, they might find one of my hairs somewhere I've never been.

In detective fiction, they often find the bad guy based on one tiny bit of physical evidence - a cigarette butt or stray hair DNA showing that a person was in a specific place, and that's what cracks open the case.  In real life, I wonder if they take into account that stuff is sometimes blown around by the wind?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Contemplating the ethics of donating food to the Salvation Army food bank

I do not donate money to the Salvation Army because their history of anti-gay action.

However, the easiest way for me to donate food to a food bank is to put it in the food bank bin outside my local supermarket. This is the only place I know of in my immediate neighbourhood where you drop off a food bank donation.  And this bin happens to be for the Salvation Army food bank.

I don't normally buy food for food banks, choosing instead to give them money so they can buy what they need and take advantage of bulk discounts and wholesale pricing, but from time to time I find myself with unwanted food or household products (I buy something that ended up not being right for me, I get a free sample box that includes stuff I'm never going to use, etc.), and I feel that the food bank is the best place for these things.

So I'm wondering where food bank donations fall ethically.

On one hand, they can't use food donations for anti-gay actions like they can with money donations, and having a busy food bank to run might take their attention away from other things.

But, on the other hand, would donating food to the food bank free up money that would otherwise be spent on the food bank for harmful political action? 

Also, what would happen if their food bank failed because they didn't receive any food donations?  Would people who need food suffer, or just be redirected to another food bank? Would the Salvation Army suffer, or just have more time and attention for activities that are less helpful than a food bank?

In short, could the Salvation Army do harm with donations of food like they've been known to do with donations of money? Or is the only possible outcome that the food goes to hungry people?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Best Customer Service Ever from Soak

I've been using Soak to wash my bras ever since I was introduced to the product by the bra-fitting geniuses at Secrets From Your Sister. It's super convenient for someone like me who lives in a small apartment with no access to a laundry tub because, as the name suggests, you just have to soak your delicates - no rinsing!  I've also discovered it's useful for knits (which is very helpful given my love of cashmere), and for spot-cleaning things that can't easily be rinsed (put the tiniest dab possible of Soak on a damp cloth, and scrub well).  The internet has also suggested that it could be used for stuffed animals, although I haven't tried this myself yet.

Unfortunately, the Secrets From Your Sister location in my neighbourhood closed, and then Très Jolie also closed, so there was nowhere to buy it in my neighbourhood any more!

(Retailers in the Yonge-Eglinton area: there's a business opportunity for you here.)

Then I discovered that you can buy directly from the Soak website! Awesome!  Since they had free shipping on orders over $75, I ordered several bottles, figuring I'll certainly use it all eventually.

But when my order arrived, I discovered that many of the bottles weren't what I ordered!  Soak comes in a number of different scents, and most of them were in a completely different scent.

I retraced my steps, and discovered that there was a fluke on their website (my best guess is a copy-paste error in some code) that caused the wrong scent to be listed in one of the items on the page of the scent I was shopping for.

I figured I didn't want to deal with an exchange since it would be expensive to ship back (being liquid) and I could live with the incorrect scent.  But I decided to email the Soak people to let them know of the website problem anyway - some future customer might be more upset or inconvenienced about receiving the incorrect scent.

To my utter astonishment and delight, they promptly sent me replacements in the correct scent, and told me I can just pass the incorrect bottles on to someone else rather than having to pay for returning them!  The replacement bottles arrived by FedEx first thing in the morning on the next business day, and, even though they were already sending me free product at non-negligible cost the box even contained a few little free sample packets!

This is literally the best customer service I have ever received in my life! Thank you Soak!

Therefore, I am strongly recommending Soak to everyone who's in the market for a hand-washing and/or rinse-free laundry detergent.  Not just because it's a useful, convenient and effective product (which it is), and not just because it's a local, made-in-Canada product (which it is), but also because they're an awesome company and deserve to win.