Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Things I Don't Understand: people who value health labour but don't value COVID protections

I blogged before about the labour of health.

Some people value health labour. They value doing it themselves, and/or they value being seen to do it, and/or they believe other people should do it.

A baffling phenomenon I've observed is people who value health labour, but don't value (and sometimes outright object to) COVID protections!

I grew up surrounded by people who value health labour (that's why I'm inclined to push back against it myself), so I'm familiar with many different motivations for valuing, engaging in or advocating for health labour. And COVID protections align with every single one of the motivations I can think of.

Some people value and engage in health labour because they themselves want to be healthy. They want to live longer, or have quality of life for longer, or simply avoid the unpleasantness and inconvenience of poor health. And COVID protections help achieve all this.

Some people value and engage in health labour because they believe sufficient diligence will save them from distressing outcomes. And COVID protections are a form of diligence that reduces the likelihood of distressing outcomes.
Some people value, engage in, and advocate for health labour because they believe people have the responsibility to their fellow taxpayers to reduce the healthcare they need and therefore the healthcare costs they incur. And COVID protections will reduce the amount of healthcare people need and the healthcare costs people incur. 

Some people value and engage in health labour because they want to be seen to be A Healthy Person, walking around with a yoga mat and instagramming their smoothies. And this can also be done with COVID protections, walking around in an N95 and instagramming your efforts to build a Corsi-Rosenthal box.

Some people engage in or advocate for health labour out of a sense of smug superiority. Doing this labour makes them feel like they're better than other people who aren't doing it, or calling out other people's failure to do this labour lets them position those people as Less Than. And many COVID protections are also things you can do, or call out other people for not doing, for both your individual health and for general public health.
Some people value, engage in and advocate for health labour because they value individualism and personal responsibility. They value making personal efforts to take care of yourself and your loved ones without any expectation that the systems and structure of society will do so. And individual COVID protections like masking and vaxxing and providing good indoor air quality everywhere you can align with this. It really seems like the people who vociferously tout individualism in other aspects of health labour should be the ones lugging a Corsi-Rosenthal box everywhere they go!

Some people advocate for health labour because they're profiting from it. They sell nutritional supplements and fitness programs and such. And this can also be done with COVID protections, selling masks and air purifiers. You could get an additional revenue stream while also keeping your clients healthy enough to continue working and earning enough to keep buying your regular products!

I've heard some people say that this comes from a place of eugenics - people thinking that you'll only be affected by COVID if you have inferior genetics, and having superior genetics means you'll be safe from COVID. 

What I don't get about that is why people who believe in eugenics would also value health labour so much. (I'm aware of the historical precedent, but I don't understand it.) If your genes were so superior, why would you need health labour at all? Surely superior genetics wouldn't need carefully balanced fitness and nutrition, and instead could handle whatever the natural course of modern life throws at them!

There are all kinds of reasons why people are into health labour, and they all align with prioritizing COVID protection. And yet, a surprising number of people who are into health labour seem to be disregarding, or even disdaining, COVID protection. 

I just don't understand.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Books read in April 2023

1. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
2. A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny


1. Devoted in Death
2. Wonderment in Death

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Advice for the Ask A Manager letter writer who found scales in the break room

There was a lot of discussion of this in the comment thread and in other parts of the internet. Some people thought that it was clearly judgmental passive-aggression about people's weight. Other people thought that weight loss is important and if you think there's something wrong with encouraging people to lose weight you have Issues. And other people thought that, regardless of who put the scales there or why, they must be someone's personal property so it would be wrong to mess with them.

My shower recently gave me an approach that would address all these possibilities and more.
If your office has a culture of people leaving stuff in the break room for anyone who wants it to take (for example, if someone baked cookies or got a free sample they don't need), you could ask "Are these scales here free to take?"
(In fact, you might even be able to ask this if you don't have a "freebies in the break room" culture.)

If the answer is yes, you can take the scales away away and they won't be there any more. Or leave them there, knowing that they're just an innocent giveaway.

And if they're there for some other reason, this creates an opening for the person who put them there to explain.

And if no one speaks up and says "I put them there for this very specific reason," then there's no reason not to get rid of them, since apparently they don't belong to anyone.

As an added bonus, this approach would also avoid making you come across as someone who has Issues About Weight Loss, which sometimes is detrimental to your credibility when you're surrounded by people who think Weight Loss Is Important. In fact, it might even make the Weight Loss Is Important people think you're one of them, because you come across as wanting a free scale. (Should you have to appease the Weight Loss Is Important people? Of course not! But sometimes it's a better decision not to throw away capital when you don't have to, even if the basis is silly.)

I suppose it's possible that someone might have put them there for a reason and not speak up when prompted to do so and subsequently complain when you take the scales away, but that seems vanishingly likely.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Books read in March 2023


1. Obsession in death

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Saving for a down payment is not the only barrier to housing affordability

Discourse about homebuying affordability often focuses on saving up for a down payment - which, of course, is a major, time-consuming endeavour. (It took me 10 years, and I was buying at 2012 preconstruction prices!)
But another important consideration is how much mortgage you quality for based on your income. A 20% down payment is insufficient if the mortgage you qualify for is less than 80% of the purchase price.

Toronto in 2021

Time to save for down payment: 20+ years

What is Toronto’s starter home of this decade? In short, it’s further from the core, harder to attain and requires decades’ worth of savings.

Looking at properties that fell around 20 per cent below the average cost in 2021, there were still some bungalows in the mix, such as a raised bungalow that hit the market in the Scarborough neighbourhood of Birchcliffe-Cliffside. A property listing describes the house’s interiors as “well maintained but dated.”

It was offered in as-is, where-is condition, meaning the seller wouldn’t be making any repairs for the new buyer. “Buy to renovate or rebuild,” it suggested.

Like so many properties across Toronto last year, it sold for well above its listing price. Four days after records show it was listed for $699,900, it went for nearly $200,000 more, with a sale price of $875,000.

To reach a 20 per cent down payment, an individual or family would be tasked with tucking away a whopping $175,000. The median household income across the city last year was $84,000 — meaning this “starter” home would take more than 20 years of savings.

This is all true, but let's also look at the mortgage situation.

Median household income last year was $84,000.

Using Tangerine's "How much can I borrow?" calculator (because that's the one I find most user-friendly), with an income of $84,000, the $175,000 down payment calculated above, and all the other settings left to default, we get a total mortgage of $432,946.

$432,946 mortgage + $175,000 down payment = $607,946
$875,000 sale price - $607,946 = $267,054
$267,054 / $8,400 annual savings rate = 31.7921428571
So it would take an additional almost 32 years, on top of the 20 years calculated by the Star article, to save up enough of a down payment to fill in the gap between mortgage eligibility and sale price. That is a total of 52 years of saving up to buy your first home!
Alternatively, to qualify for a mortgage that would fill the $607,946 gap between the $175,000 down payment and the $875,000 sale price, you'd need an annual household income of $116,080 - 38% higher than the median. (I arrived at this number by fiddling with the inputs in the mortgage calculator. If you know a link to a calculator that determines the income needed to qualify for a given size of mortgage - or if you know the formula for calculating this - drop it in the comments so everyone can run the numbers themselves!)
So yes, saving up for a 20% down payment in an over-inflated housing market is a major challenge!
But it is not the entirety of the challenge. The average household would still be nowhere near able to afford a "starter home" with just a 20% down payment.
Discourse surrounding the challenges of the housing market needs to make it clear that a 20% down payment is not the only barrier to affordability.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Books read in February 2023

1. Maus by Art Spiegelman
2. The Neil Gaiman Reader by Neil Gaiman
1. Festive in Death

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The need for workplace accommodations is a failure of the workplace

In a recent Globe and Mail article:

Researchers estimate that approximately one in eight Canadian women are likely suffering from an unrecognized brain injury related to domestic violence. 

I have an undiagnosed brain injury (not resulting from domestic violence, so you don't need to worry about that on my behalf) and I have to adjust all kinds of aspects of life to adapt to it. I have systems and backup plans for if I can't cope with my usual lightbulbs, or I wake up and my eyes won't open, or any one of the countless irritants of post-head-injury life.

And, essentially, the reason why I'm able to do this is that I work from home.

It occurred to me recently that if I still worked in the office, every one of these little adjustments to post-head-injury life would need to be a formal accommodation. 

Even just the light thing - I'd need to get a doctor's note, perhaps specifying what kinds of lights bother my eyes and what kinds I need instead. This would require a testing rabbit-hole, because I don't actually know the answer! I can point to certain places where the lights bother me all the time and other places where the lights bother me some of the time, but I haven't figured out exactly what types of lights do what. 

This is exacerbated by the fact that employees of businesses and other spaces where I'm not in charge of the lights often don't know what kinds of lights they have either. One example is actually my doctor's office: the lights used to bother me, now they don't. I asked the doctor if they'd changed the lights, and he said that the landlord had changed the lights, but he has no idea what kinds were used before or are used now.

This is also exacerbated by the fact that I didn't meet the diagnostic criteria for a concussion. Because the medical profession told me I'm fine, I didn't immediately seek the help of the medical profession when I realized I wasn't fine. So I'd be seeking a note confirming a problem where the only thing on my file is that I don't have that problem, and I never followed up further. Not the best for my credibility - especially when it requires a bunch of paperwork from my doctor!

Then, if I did manage to get a doctor's note, I'd need to get it approved by management, who may or may not send it back for more information. Then they'd have to figure out what adjustments can be made to the lights in the office, and send facilities people in to make the adjustments. (I've seen this done for others - they have to send a guy up a ladder to make adjustments to the lighting fixtures high on the ceiling.)

In contract, when I'm at home, I just flick a lightswitch. If it gets really hardcore, I change a lightbulb. 

This has me thinking about how many people need to jump through hoops just to function at work as a result of domestic violence.

And also has me thinking that if employees need to seek formal accommodations in a workplace, that means that the workplace is flawed.

Employees should be able to navigate and operate their workplace without having to ask permission or go through red tape for every little thing.

If you're an employer - especially if you're an employer who's worried about losing employees to work-from-home jobs - think about how your employees can and can't navigate and operate their workplace independently, without asking for permission or approval, and how that would compare with working from home.

If you can close that gap, you'll build a better workplace.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Advice for "Worried" in a recent Carolyn Hax column

 From a recent Carolyn Hax:

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend loves her dog and takes extremely good care of it. I mean extremely. The dog has a schedule, including breakfast, walks, naps, playtime, dinner and bedtime. She cooks for the dog. The dog gets filtered (not tap) water. The dog has more toys and sweaters than your average toddler. The dog goes to day care on the days my girlfriend has to work on-site. My girlfriend spends a lot of money on the dog.

The dog is cute. I like the dog. But we are thinking of marrying, and I worry that the way she treats this dog will set a precedent for how she might treat our children. I think as much as she loves the dog, if she treated a child this way, it would be too much. Too much hovering, too much spending, too much controlling.

She is a great girl in every other way. Even in this way, even if that sounds weird, because boy is that dog loved. But I still worry because I am less hands-on with my pets. They are fed, walked and cuddled, but they are not treated like royalty. Would it be a mistake to marry this wonderful girl?

— Worried

You do need to tell her specifically that you think the way she loves and cares for her dog is too much and you're concerned that she might love and care for children in a similar way, because you might have a fundamental parenting incompatibility here, and you both need to be aware of it to decide whether the relationship should proceed.

You mention that you yourself have pets, and you love and care for them in a way you feel is appropriate.

How would you feel if your girlfriend looked at how you take care of your pets and said it's too much and you're spoiling them? What about your potential future children? Would you want your children to be in the care of and dependent on someone who thinks they should receive less love and care than you think is appropriate?

Or would you want to protect them from someone who's trying to create a situation where they receive less love and care than you think is appropriate?

Your girlfriend would also want to protect her potential future children from situations where they receive less love and care than she thinks is appropriate, and that may well mean protecting them from having you as a parent.

This is a critical impasse you're at, and not to disclose it to her would be deception.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Books read in January 2023


1. Minique by Anna Maxymiw
1. Taken in Death
2. Concealed in Death

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Cascade Complete from the grocery store is better than Cascade Complete from Amazon

I previously tried Cascade Complete, and found it subpar and ineffective.

However, I recently ran out of dishwasher detergent, and Cascade Complete was the only one I could find in store. So I bought it, thinking it's better than nothing until I can get something else.

My first surprise is that the detergent was a different colour. My previous Cascade Complete (which I bought on Amazon) was a kind of dull greyish blue. The new one from the grocery store was a bright greenish blue.
My second surprise was that it worked! No food left on pans, no stained teacups, my dishes were clean!

I've been using it for some time, and it's on par with the lemon Cascade I was using before!

So maybe the Cascade I bought from Amazon was a bad batch?

So far I've only tried one bottle of Cascade from Amazon and one from the grocery store so I don't know how widespread the problem is, but I'm glad to know that the most common liquid dishwasher detergent actually works when I buy it in store!

And if I ever again get a bottle of Cascade that's dull greyish blue, I'm returning it right away.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Romance novels vs. fanfiction

I recently saw someone on book twitter say that it's a convention of the genre that romance novels have to have a happy ending.

That surprised me, because when I do read romance, I'm usually metaphorically peeking between my fingers, feeling like this is all going to end in heartbreak.

Often it's not worry about whether the couple ends up together, but rather worrying that they're not right for each other. Especially in cishet romance, I'm fearing that the male lead is unsafe for the female lead. (After all, we all know that handsome and charming does not necessarily equal safe!)

Even in the In Death books, which I have been reading and enjoying for OMG 15 years now, I read the whole first book and didn't feel that Roarke was a safe partner for Eve. I only even started the second book because it had already arrived from the library and it eventually won me over. 

The problem with early In Death, which I think is also the problem with many romance novels, is the author is writing from the assumption that the couple belongs together. But as a reader, I just got here. I have no emotional attachment to the pairing, I have no reason to believe they belong together, and I'm not motivated to suspend disbelief. The author would have to win me over and actually demonstrate that they belong together, which authors don't always do.

Because of this, I don't read that much romance. 

However, I just realized this is why romantic fanfiction does work for me. In fanfiction, I already know the characters and I already agree that the couple belongs together - that's why I'm reading that pairing! So the author doesn't have to win me or the rest of the audience over. Everyone already agrees that the couple belongs together, and we can just enjoy the ride. For example, I recently read an AU where one main character (who was in a position of greater power) accidentally kidnapped the other (who was in a more vulnerable position). In original fiction, that would be appalling! But, because I already agree with the author that the couple belongs together, I'm like "Oh, that scamp, how's he going to get out of this mess?"

Writing this out, I realized that I more often start shipping characters from movies or TV shows rather than books. Something about seeing the relationship played out visually is more convincing to me. Other than In Death, I can't think of a pairing I've started shipping after reading them in a book. But nevertheless, once the shipping is established, text continued to be my preferred medium for fanfiction.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

"He's an asshole but I don't remember why": a post-head-injury phenomenon

Since my head injury, my brain behaves as though it's trying to save disk space, by deleting information it believes is no longer needed.

One such category of information is information that was used to make a decision that has been finalized and shouldn't need to be revisited.

One example of these decisions was choosing my condo finishes. I chose my kitchen counters on the basis that they were the least worst of the available options, but my brain has deleted what the problem was with the other ones. I couldn't explain to you what was wrong with them or why my current one was better.

Another example of these decisions was setting up my mortgage. I remember various questions I asked when deciding on the specifics of the mortgage and I remember that I was satisfied with the answers, but I don't remember what the answers were. I couldn't explain to you why this particular kind of mortgage meets my needs best, even though I'm confident that itdoes.

Another example of these decisions is deciding that someone I don't have to deal with in real life (a writer, a public figure, etc.) is untrustworthy or should be disregarded. 
For example, maybe people I trust on a particular topic don't trust this individual. Maybe this individual's politics are problematic. Maybe I learn that this individual is racist (as I've mentioned before, I'm bad at detecting racism myself, so I can't always tell until someone else mentions it).
So I decide to disregard them. I don't pay attention to the untrustworthy things they say, and instead spend my time and energy on trustworthy people. I don't read them for fear that I might unknowingly internalize their racism, and instead opt to read the people who first recognized that the problematic individual is racist.

Decision made, my brain deletes the information I used to arrive at that decision.

Then, sometime later, this individual comes up in conversation. I recognize the name as someone I've made a deliberate, informed decision to distrust for very good reasons. My interlocutor, being a decent human being, would want to know about this.
But all that's left in my brain is "He's an asshole . . . but I don't remember why."


What's super interesting is how people react to this!
When I can't remember or articulate why he's an asshole, people's visceral reaction is "You have no proof, therefore your allegation is non-credible!"
And then, they quite frequently go from "Your allegation is non-credible" to "Therefore, the person you are making allegations against is trustworthy!"
I haven't figured out what to do with this. If I were in my interlocutor's position, I'd want to know that he's an asshole. Based on what I know of my interlocutor, I also think they'd want to know.

But when I present what I know, minus what my post-head-injury brain has deleted, it often comes across as giving the asshole additional credibility.

I don't know what to do with this.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Books read in December 2022

1. How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian & James Lindsay 
2. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
3. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
4. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
1. Calculated in Death 
2. Thankless in Death

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Things Organized Labour Should Invent

Imagine a centralized directory of all unionized employers - where they are located, what kinds of jobs they hire for, whether they have remote work, what their pay and benefits are like, etc.
For that matter, imagine a comparable centralized directory of all employers, which you can robustly sort and filter based on compensation or benefits or working conditions. Kind of like Glassdoor, but comprehensive, accurate, and constantly updated.
So you could search for exactly what you need, e.g. full-remote jobs that pay at least $X and have drug coverage. If there are zero such jobs, you'll know at a glance. If better than you imagined is available, you'd know.

This would make it easier for workers to find the right job for them, and for strong employers to attract the best talent.

This would greatly benefit labour, so maybe organized labour could organize it?

Thursday, December 22, 2022



You never turn down the chance to try something new. You've got an adventurer's spirit; though, it's not just for the fun of it. You enjoy learning and exploring because it has its practical uses, too. You're loyal and kind, and you don't mind going out of your way to help people in need. You've got a big heart and an even bigger sense of humour. You find comfort and camaraderie in unique and interesting people, just like you. This year, a romantic connection or an exciting creative project might find you when you least expect it.



Domestic issues will be in the spotlight over the coming year and if you want to maintain a friendly atmosphere on the home front you may have to do things for loved ones that seem silly to you. Don’t worry, it will be more than worth it.


Both of these sound ridiculously inaccurate. My birthday horoscopes have been ridiculously inaccurate for several years (I don't remember if it's since the pandemic started or if it's since the head injury - time has no meaning) but I record them anyway

Sunday, December 11, 2022

I do not recommend front fill coffee makers

I had to buy a new coffee maker last year, and ended up with a 5 cup Hamilton Beach front fill, basically because that was the first one available to me. (Mine is smaller than the one shown in the image, but the image makes it clear how much of the lid does and does not open.)
Hamilton Beach front fill coffee maker. A small portion of the lid opens at the front, but most of it is unopenable
Hamilton Beach front fill coffee maker

Occasionally, I find a small puddle of water under it, as though it's leaking somewhere.

The problem is the front fill structure makes it difficult (or perhaps even impossible) to get into the reservoir and see what might be leaking. 

Googling around the idea (stymied by interference from AI-generated content, which is a whole nother blog post), I found that there might be a hose or gasket that's developed build-up or come loose or cracked, which would most likely be apparent from inside the reservoir. But, unlike every other coffee maker I've owned, it was impossible to get inside to see.

I could maybe, maybe, maybe get in there by unscrewing the base of the coffee maker (right where it says "DO NOT OPEN, NO USER-SERVICEABLE PARTS"), but I'm less than certain that it would work, or that it would be safe to operate the coffee maker after my amateur attempt to open it up and close it again.

The instructions that come with the coffee maker claim it has a five-year warranty to I might follow up on that (and if I do, I'll blog about it), but I'm not sure if it will work or will just get me another coffee maker that will leak again in a year, or if they'll require me to take the device in to a repair shop (which would mean a subway ride, time, potential COVID exposure, etc.)

My immediate solution was to order a $9 coffee maker on clearance from walmart (looking through my records, I see that my last cheap walmart coffee maker last me 7 years!) and then figure out what, if anything, to do once I have a backup and can be confident in the availability of my morning coffee.
(I really want to be a person who buys quality products and gets extensive use out of them, but it's a real struggle to find quality small coffee makers. The brands Consumer Reports lists as most reliable are dramatically different than what I'm used to  - different shapes, non-identical brewing mechanisms, in some cases reusable mesh filters - and I'm reluctant to pay $100+ for something that may or may not make me happy.)

But in general, I recommend avoiding front fill coffee makers because they hinder what should be standard user servicing, making what may well be a simply 10 second repair into a whole ordeal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Books read in November 2022

1. Still Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton
2. Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan


1. Delusion in Death

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

What to do if you don't like hearing your daughter-in-law's surname

 From a recent Carolyn Hax:

Hello Carolyn: Our son’s wife of several years chose to hyphenate our last name with her maiden name. Whenever we are with them, she always identifies herself with her maiden name, from setting up reservations to public places requiring identification. It can be hurtful to us. Are we being too sensitive?

— J.

A simple solution would be to take the lead on making reservations and otherwise interacting with others on behalf of your party. That way, the only name you'll have to hear in these contexts is your own.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Explicio via absurdum

There is a logical fallacy called reductio ad absurdum, meaning attempting to establish a claim by showing that the opposite scenario would lead to absurdity or contradiction.

Sometimes I find that the opposite of reductio ad absurdum is actually helpful - using an utterly absurd or extreme example to explain a concept.

With my complete lack of Latin knowledge, I've been calling this "explicio via absurdum", but I welcome any corrections to my Latin!
This is particularly useful when trying explain something mathematical by a solely verbal medium, where you can't put numbers in front of your interlocutor's eyes and doing the math with plausible numbers would get you bogged down in arithmetic.
It's also useful when you don't know how the real numbers work, but you're trying to make the point that there's a range in which the numbers would work.
For example, I recently saw a discussion where some people seemed to think that interest rates were the major barrier to housing affordability, and didn't seem to recognize that housing prices themselves could be a barrier regardless of interest rates.
So here's how I would explain this via absurdum:
Imagine the house you want costs $1, and interest rates are 1000%. Can you afford the house? (Probably! You almost certainly have a dollar, and therefore could buy the house outright without a mortgage, thus rendering interest rates irrelevant.)
Imagine the house you want costs $1 billion, and interest rates are zero. Can you afford the house? (Probably not! Your monthly payment would be in the millions, which is well outside the scope of anyone who might be paying attention to me)

Now, I am well aware that there aren't any houses costing $1, there aren't any 1000% interest rates, there aren't any 0% interest rates, and if there are any houses costing $1 billion they're irrelevant to our reality.

However, these absurd examples help illustrate how it's possible for a price to be so cheap that interest rates are irrelevant, and to be so expensive that interest rates are irrelevant. Once people see this, they can see that there is in fact a range at the top and bottom of the scale (Could you buy the house outright if it cost $2? $50? $1,000? $10,000?  Would the house be unaffordable even without interest if it cost $500 million? $50 million? $5 million?)
Then you gradually move from absurd to reality, with the point made.