Sunday, August 30, 2015


From The Ethicist:
When my mother passed away, I inherited an antique necklace made of carved ivory beads. I love the look of — and am sentimentally tied to — this necklace, but I am also a supporter of anti-poaching programs and organizations. I have avoided wearing the necklace because I don’t want to appear to support the ivory trade. On the other hand, I hate not being able to wear one of the few pieces of jewelry that I have from my mother. What should I do with the necklace?
 One thing that occurred to me while reading this: would people actually recognize it as ivory?

When I do a google image search for ivory necklaces, they look like plastic costume jewellery to me. I have no idea if they'd look non-plastic in person, but based on the image search I seriously doubt that I'd look at them and automatically think "Clearly, that must be made from dead elephant tusks!"

I have a few pieces of jewellery from my late grandmother, and one of the necklaces has a few white beads on it.  The only reason why I know for certain they aren't ivory is because my grandmother wasn't anywhere near wealthy enough be able to afford ivory, even as small beads in a necklace made of many other things, even if it were a special, one-time luxury. 

One of the lines of discussion in the column is whether wearing ivory jewellery promotes the notion of ivory as a glamorous luxury item that is beautiful and should be coveted. But I question whether anyone who isn't enough of an expert to already have their own well-established opinion on the matter would even recognize it as ivory.

And, if LW is asked about the composition or origin of the necklace, she could simply and truthfully respond by talking about how it was her mother's and has great sentimental value.

Friday, August 28, 2015

How working from home affects my subconscious

One side-effect of working from home is that my subconscious seems to be less active.  I don't notice the lack of subconscious activity itself, but when I have a now-unusual) high-interaction day, I notice that I'm predreaming a lot more as I wait to fall asleep.  And the content of the predreaming is most often directly related to the interaction of the day - I can hear the voices and cadences of the people I interacted with echoing in the background, like you would if you were nodding off in a crowded room.

I don't specifically remember the influence of the people I interacted with in my subconscious before I started working from home, but it's quite possible I didn't notice it because it was baseline. 

If asked to think about my dreams or predreams in isolation, I would never say that I feel they're not what they should be on a regular work-at-home day. But, nevertheless, they are far more vibrant on high-interaction days, with content directly related to the interactions of the day.

Teach me about the economics of ATMs

A tiny family-owned convenience store in my neighbourhood has a Royal Bank ATM in it. Since the bank account from which I most often withdraw cash is with Royal Bank, I sometimes pop into this store to use the ATM.

However, I never buy anything from this store, because it doesn't have anything I need that can't be obtained at a significantly better price elsewhere in the immediate neighbourhood.

Am I making this store money by using the Royal Bank ATM located inside it? Or am I costing them money?

My googling tells me that no-name ATMs - the one that you often find in bars and restaurants and charge exorbitant fees - make money for the business in which they are located.  But do bank-branded ATMs also do that?  Even though they don't charge a transaction fee if you're a customer of that bank?  Or do the banks charge businesses to host the ATMs on the grounds that the ATM might attract people who will then become paying customers?  (I haven't been able to google up anything suggesting that they do, but it sounds like the kind of thing a bank would come up with.  Nor have I been able to google up anything suggesting that businesses make money from hosting bank-branded ATMs)

If it costs this little convenience store money for me to use their ATM, I'll get off my lazy ass and walk a block to the actual bank branch.  But if it's revenue neutral, I want to use it sometimes because it's more convenient for me on some of the routes that I take for various errands. And if it actually generates revenue for them, maybe I should use it systematically, rather than that revenue going to the bank or to Shoppers Drug Mart.

Anyone have any insight about how this works?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The time I failed to do surgery on a Sleeptracker watch

I've blogged before about my various successful attempts to repair various malfunctioning household objects, so it's only fair if I write about my failed attempt.

I'd been using a Sleeptracker watch for years without incident, when one day the battery died.  The little hole-in-the-wall jewellery store where I'd previously gotten the battery replaced had closed and I happened to be at the Bay store at Yonge & Bloor, so I decided to see if their jewellery department did watch batteries. They did, and appeared to change the battery successfully.

Unfortunately, after a couple of days' use, I determined that the watch wasn't beeping any more.  It was telling time properly, but not beeping when the alarm was supposed to go off. Which makes it useless, since the whole point of a Sleeptracker is to wake you up!

 I did some googling, and found some other people on the internet who had had the same problem with digital watches (although never Sleeptrackers specifically), including instructions that were supposed to fix the problem. (I can no longer google up the specific instructions I found.)  So I bought a tiny screwdriver and opened up the watch to follow the instructions.

I managed to open it up reasonably easily, followed the instructions, replaced the battery, but it didn't beep. And, to add insult to injury, I couldn't get the watched closed again.  The band kind of overlaps the piece on the back of the watcht hat needs to come off, and I just don't have the physical dexterity to get that piece back on and tucked under the band on both the top and bottom and get the screw-holes to line up so I can put the screws back in.

So I put all the parts in a ziploc bag, and ended up buying a new Sleeptracker watch on eBay. (They seem to have discontinued the watches and replaced them with an iphone app, which is useless to me given how often I throw everything in bed with me out of bed in my sleep!)

Now the battery of that new Sleeptracker is running low, and I'm worried about whether it will be a complete write-off too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why is defecting allowed?

With the news that some Cuban Pan Am athletes defected, I find myself wondering why defecting is allowed from the perspective of the receiving country.

The results of my googling talk about the fact that defecting is prohibited by the country of origin and measures that countries might take to prevent people from defecting away.  But they take for granted that the receiving country will be happy to welcome the defectors.

Does the receiving country always in fact welcome defectors?  If so, why?  Do they ever turn them away?  Or can people automatically get in by announcing that they're defecting?

The definition of "defecting" as opposed to "emigrating" is that the country of origin doesn't want to let you out.  So, given recent stinginess towards refugees in various parts of the world, maybe people who have to pay smugglers to get them across the border so they can claim refugee status should instead announce that they're defecting?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A better approach to ethical objection by doctors

I've blogged before about the mystery of doctors who choose to practise in a certain field of medicine even though they morally object to an integral part of that field of medicine.  Surely they should have seen it coming that they'd be called upon to do the thing to which they morally object (in the case that inspired that blog post, prescribing contraception when working in a walk-in clinic) and surely they should have chosen a different field of medicine if they objected to this.

But with the eventual legalization of physician-assisted dying (as they seem to be calling it now) in the news, I see a situation where the doctors literally didn't sign up for this.  It's quite possible for someone to have become a doctor without having seen it coming that they could be called upon to deliberately end a life. 

So in the shower, I thought of a simple guideline that balances physicians' ethics, patients' rights, the "they should have seen it coming" factor, and the "they couldn't have seen it coming factor."

Doctors should be required to provide all procedures and services that were usual and customary in their field and their jurisdiction at the time when they begin practising.  However, doctors can be permitted to opt out of only those procedures or services introduced after they began practising. The time when they "began practising" can be defined as either the time when they began their medical training as a whole, when they began their training in that specialization, when they graduated, when they began (or completed) their internship or residency - whatever the medical profession considers the optimal point in time.

So if you became a general practitioner in 1951, you can opt out of prescribing birth control pills on moral grounds. If you became a general practitioner in 2015, you had fair warning that you'd be called upon to prescribe birth control pills, so if you'd find that prospect morally objectionable, you had plenty of time to plan your career in a different direction.

If you became a doctor in 2007, you can opt out of physician-assisted dying on moral grounds.  If you become a doctor in 2020, you'll have fair warning that you might be called upon to help people die in whatever specialties end up providing that service, so if you don't want to provide that service you can specialize in podiatry or obstetrics or something.

If a doctor changes specialization or changes jurisdictions, they're required to provide all the usual and customary procedures and services at the time of their transfer. The reasoning here is they have an opportunity to research what they're getting into and plan accordingly.

This will also make it easier for patients not to get stuck with doctors who won't provide the service they need.  Patients can simply look up the doctor in CPSO or their jurisdiction's equivalent, and see when they began practising.

This way, the proportion of doctors providing a potentially-controversial service or treatment will always increase and never decrease. The acceptance of services among doctors (and therefore their availability) should mirror the acceptance of services among society (and therefore demand).  After a transitional period, patients won't ever find themselves stuck with a doctor who is morally opposed to a usual and customary service or treatment in their field. But, at the same time, no doctor is required to provide any service or treatment that they didn't know they were getting into.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Excellent customer service from Rexall (but, unfortunately, subpar umbrellas)

I grabbed a black umbrella at Rexall because they were calling for rain the day we scattered my grandmother's ashes, and I thought my usual coloured umbrellas would be inappropriate for a cemetery. But when I went to open it at the cemetery, it refused to open and the handle just came off in my hand. Multiple people all tried to open it, and no one succeeded. Fortunately I was able to borrow an umbrella, or I would have gotten wet!

I took it back to Rexall (fortunately I still had the receipt and the label with the barcode, although the label was torn.)  The cashier tried to open it, had the same problem, and then promptly and cheerfully gave me a full refund, all while expressing concern that she hoped I hadn't gotten too wet.

Unfortunately, I've had problems with every umbrella I've ever bought from Rexall. They used to have these cheerful yellow ones that I adored, but they'd always break within just a couple of months - and not even from blowing inside out, just from opening and closing and being in my purse.  I've never once been satisfied with the quality and longevity of an umbrella I bought there.

However, I am very satisfied with their customer service, so I will send more of my non-umbrella business their way.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why is there acetaminophen in everything?

This summer cold has used up my stock of Nyquil, so I went to the store to buy more.  They've changed their product line since I last bought any, and now there are two kind: Nyquil Cold & Flu and Nyquil Sinus.  I wasn't sure which one was "normal" Nyquil, so I read the labels, and was surprised to see that there's acetaminophen in both.

There's probably always been acetaminophen in Nyquil, but I noticed it this time because some random internet person recently told me that the freakish dreams I had when I tried Tylenol Cold & Flu a while back might have been due to the acetaminophen.  So I looked at the similar cold medicines on the shelf, and all of them had acetaminophen, except for the Advil-branded medicines which had ibuprofen. I could not find one single decongestant that doesn't contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Why do they do this?

Acetaminophen is a painkiller and fever reducer.  The vast majority of my colds don't come with pain or a fever and, when I do have aches and pain or a fever caused by a virus, I don't always want to suppress it so I can accurately monitor the evolution of my condition.

I use decongestants so I can stop sniffling long enough to fall asleep.  I want my nose to stop running, and I wouldn't say no to a sedative. Fevers and aches and pains don't prevent me from sleeping (in fact, they make me want to lie down and close my eyes), so the acetaminophen simply doesn't help.

This cold also brought me a productive cough, so I decided to take an expectorant to make it pass faster.  Last time I had a cough, I learned that the very effective but very disgusting Buckley's cough syrup comes in pill form, so I bought some called Buckley's Complete Plus Mucous Relief.  I took this out of my medicine cabinet, read the label, and discovered that not only does it contain acetaminophen too, it also contains a cough suppressant in addition to the expectorant!  (And a decongestant, but I don't object to that.)  It seems that the cough suppressant and the expectorant would work at cross-purposes, and, since I'm at home, I don't want to suppress the cough! I want to spend the day coughing my lungs up and be done with it rather than having it stretch out over days and weeks.

So I went to the drug store and looked at the cough medicines and, once again, all of the cough medicines that come in pill form had acetaminophen and a cough suppressant. (There was a liquid expectorant, but liquid cough medicines are disgusting so I really hope to avoid them.)

I don't understand why they do this.  I very, very rarely need acetaminophen at the same time as I need a decongestant or cough medicine, and if I do have a fever or aches and pains that I do want to treat, it's no effort to take a Tylenol in addition to my cold or cough medicine.  There are also people for whom acetaminophen is contraindicated. What is gained by shutting them out of the cold medicine market?

On top of that, there have been concerns recently about people inadvertently taking risky levels of acetaminophen. Surely an easy and unobjectionable first step would be to remove acetaminophen from medications whose primary purpose is not pain management or fever management!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

itunes deleted all the music off my ipod

The ipod: a 4th generation ipod touch running iOS 6.0
The itunes: itunes 11.0
The computer: PC running Windows 7

I added some new music to my itunes library, then synced my ipod (like I've done many, many times before) to add that music to my ipod.  But, to my shock, itunes instead deleted all the music off my ipod!

I tried to sync it again, but this didn't add any music to it. And, unfortunately, the second attempt to sync overwrote the backup of my ipod (itunes only keeps one backup and there's no way to keep others!), so I couldn't just restore the backup.

I went through all the usual disconnecting, reconnecting, turning stuff on and off, pressing both buttons to reset the ipod, but I still couldn't convince my music to go back on my ipod.  At one point about 400 songs (out of over 8000) went on the ipod, but when I tried to add more they went away.

Some parts of the internet suggested that this was a copyright thing, and music that wasn't purchased through the itunes store was being deleted, but that wasn't the case here.  I've never purchased any music through itunes, and the 400 songs that did end up on my ipod were from a mixture of CDs and downloads.

This discussion thread had some people experiencing the same problem. Some people suggested that this was a known issue and if you went to the Apple store they'd fix it, but they never specified what the Apple store did to fix it. I was slightly reluctant to do that, because the Apple store would probably update my iOS, and whenever my iOS is updated something goes wrong with one of my apps.  Also, since my computer is a PC, the Apple store won't even look at it, even if part of the problem is in the itunes that is on my computer.  So all I could see them doing was restoring my ipod, thereby forcing me to upgrade my iOS, and sending me on my merry way.

During the course of my research, I learned about the Manually Manage Music option in itunes, which allows you to drag and drop music onto your ipod rather than using the sync function. I tried to put my playlist on the ipod using this function, and it transferred about 500 songs (again with no discernible pattern) which is better than before but still only a small fraction of my 8000+ playlist.

Someone on the internet who was having the same problem mentioned transferring their songs album by album, so I decided to try to transfer the songs from an album that didn't get transferred.  I typed the name of the album into the search box in itunes, selected all, and dragged them over to the ipod.  It sat on the first step of the process (something like "preparing for transfer" - I'm not about to try it again just to get the exact name of the step!) for a really long time, leading me to believe it wasn't going to work.  Resigned, I contemplated whether to update and restore the iOS, update or reinstall itunes, go to the Apple store, or any number of time-consuming and no doubt fruitless steps that happen next in the troubleshooting process.

At some point during this contemplation, I idly backspaced the album name that I'd typed in the search box of itunes, so itunes once again displayed all the songs.  And, at some point during this contemplation, itunes started transferring the remaining ~7500 songs to my ipod!!

I have no idea if backspacing the album name out of the search box is what caused all the songs to transfer.  I have no idea if it was caused by something else I failed to notice.  But I haven't been that happy since the day my computer finally came back from the Dell depot!

So now I'm keeping my ipod in Manually Manage Music mode, so I don't have to do a full sync the next time I want to put more music on it. If I have trouble again, I'll try transferring just a few songs isolated by searching in itunes, then backspace the search out of the search box.  (I have no idea if that will work, but that's where I am in my testing.) However, I'm dreading what will happen when I have to sync the ipod again to update apps or something.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The time I did surgery on a remote control

A few days ago, I turned on my TV, pressed the AV button on the remote to switch it to my Wii, and discovered that the AV button didn't work.  I pressed some other buttons, and they didn't work either.  I replaced the batteries, and they didn't fix the problem.

My cable remote could be convinced to control everything on the TV except switching it to AV, so I figured I'd have to either try a universal remote (might not work, since my TV is not a common brand) or maybe even buy a new TV.

Since the remote was dead anyway, I decided to see if I could take it apart to find out why it wasn't working. I saw some little screws, so I unscrewed them.  Then I pulled the casing apart, and could clearly see how the inside worked.  There was a rubber layer that constituted the buttons, with a small dot of what I assume is conductive material corresponding with the appropriate point on the conveniently-labelled circuit board.  I couldn't see any flaws or signs of wear and tear, so I sprayed compressed air at everything and put it back together, noting with interest that the various parts seem to be deliberately shaped in a way that makes it impossible to put it back together incorrectly. 

I screwed the screws back in, put the batteries back in...and it worked!!!

I have no idea why it worked - I didn't do anything to cause it to worked - but nevertheless I took it apart, put it back together, and it worked.

That's one impossible thing before breakfast!


I've blogged before about positive physical changes that correlate with getting older.  I think I now have a positive mental change that correlates with getting older: better ability to take things apart and put them back together.

I've blogged about my experiences with a chair and a lamp.  In both cases, and in the case of the remote control, I don't think I could have done it in my 20s without clearly-illustrated written instructions.  My brain just didn't see how things worked the same way.

I have no idea why this is. I've never done anything to work on it deliberately.  There's nothing in my day-to-day life that should improve my ability to take things apart and figure out how they work.

Understand, I'm still not objectively good at taking things apart or figuring out how things work.  I'm still very much hindered by my clumsiness and poor physical skills of all types. But I do seem to be better at it than I was before, and I do seem to be improving, for reasons I cannot fathom.

Monday, August 03, 2015

I promise one day I'll blog about something other than pants

One more factoid from my exploration of young people's attitudes towards pants that I forgot to mention in my previous blog post on the subject:

It seems that young women who wear high-waisted pants don't consider the high waists to be suitable for when they're trying to dress like a grownup (job interview, internships, entry-level office jobs, etc.)  Many discussions by young people of dressing for the adult world specifically mentioned high-waisted pants on the "what not to wear" list, and no one ever argued against that point.

This surprises me because when I was a teen, it never would have occurred to me that a more youthful silhouette would be inappropriate for dressing like an adult.  If my pants were dress pants and my blouse was a blouse, I considered that sufficiently grown-up, even if the pants were hip-hugging flares and the blouse was fitted.  I made sure the individual pieces met "grown-up clothes" criteria and I made sure nothing was exposed (i.e. there wasn't a gap of midriff showing between my hip-hugging flares and my fitted blouse), but it never would have crossed my mind to wear a higher waistline, a baggier blouse, or tuck and belt.

Similarly, if a student came into our office wearing high-waisted pants tucked and belted, it would never occur to me to think that this outfit was less grownup or less professional than what I'm wearing.  I'd recognize it as a current style, something I myself wouldn't wear, but there's nothing inherently wrong or Less Than about it. Even if it were unflattering on her, I wouldn't see that as less professional or less adult. I'd just see her as someone whose fashion skills haven't yet fully developed, which has no bearing on her professional competence.

Added to that, some of the older female employees in my office are from the era that tucked in their shirts previously. Some of them evolved away from that as fashion trends changed, but I can think of one or two individuals whom I've seen in mom jeans.  For those of us who don't wear them, it's most often because we see it as too old, not because we see it as too young.

It's so interesting how something so innocuous can have such different connotations in the eyes of people with not even a generation's age gap!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Books read in July 2015


1. The Alzheimer's Diary by Joan Sutton
2. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
3. Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan
4. The End of Memory by Jay Ingram


1. Calculated in Death
2. Ceremony in Death

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Things They Should Invent: sitting pants

I recently read an article about a designer who's making clothes for people in wheelchairs:
The mainstream clothing that we buy is cut and drafted for standing. It’s something we don’t think twice about. When we sit down our clothes get all mess up. What I mean by that is that with pants they cut you in your gut and they ride down at the back; Or with a long coat, it will get all bunchy at the front.
Until I discovered Reitman's Comfort Fit, literally every single pair of pants I'd ever worn cut into my gut and rode down in the back when I sat down.  And, since I've spent the vast majority of my life in a classroom or at a computer, that meant my pants were uncomfortable the vast majority of the time.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who spends far more time sitting than standing, especially when at work or in school.  I don't know what sitting pants would look like on a person who's standing up, but some people may well be willing to make the sacrifice.  Added to that, there are situations in which people have to look good sitting down but standing up is less relevant (talk show guests come to mind, and I'm sure there are others).

I'll bet this business and others like it could expand their client base and probably earn higher margins by making sitting pants for non-disabled people who simply spend a lot of time sitting.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I had a teacher in high school who always wore high-waisted, pleated pants, and I thought they made her look frumpy. This teacher was the kind of person who would otherwise have come across as youthful and with-it - she was under 40, savvy, up on her students' pop culture, able to discern who had a crush on whom, meticulous with her hair and makeup - but I thought these pants were so aging and out of touch.

It occurs to me that teenagers today probably think the exact same thing about me and my boot-cut pants.

I have noticed recently that when I see boot-cut, flared or wide-legged pants being worn in media from 10-15 years ago, it seems a bit out of place.  But, nevertheless, I feel badass in my own boot-cut pants, and frumpy in skinnies.  So I keep wearing what makes me feel badass, even if Kids Today might be laughing at it. Flares are scheduled to come back in a few years anyway.


I blogged previously about the recent trend among young women of wearing high-waisted pants with shirts tucked in.   I recently found out why they do this: they believe it's slimming because the well-defined waist emphasizes how small their natural waist is.  This flabbergasted me because, with my fashion awareness having happened just as the last shirt-tucking trend waned and shirt untucking (with narrow shirts) came into fashion, I think an untucked shirt is more slimming because it creates a smoother line, and a tucked shirt is less slimming because it creates a sausage effect.  In one of my journeys down an internet rabbit hole, I landed in a fashion forum populated by young women where people posted comparison pictures to prove that high waists and tucking and belting was more slimming, and I genuinely felt that these pictures demonstrated beyond any doubt that an untucked shirt was more slimming.  We're looking at the exact same thing and seeing it as a complete opposite!

I'm not going to link to the examples I saw, because it isn't appropriate to send my adult readership to look at pictures of teens and scrutinize their figures with the general message of "See how these kids think they look slim but they really look lumpen!"  So, instead, I'm going to show you two pictures of actress Angie Dickinson from the 1950s:

Angie Dickinson (right) in a belted bodysuit
Angie Dickinson in a non-belted bodysuit

I think the outfit on the left is less flattering, specifically because of the belt. To my eyes, the belt creates a sausage effect with the soft part of her belly above and below, making her tummy below look sticky-outy, and the fleshy bit above look like a roll of fat.  Obviously this effect is very minimal on Ms. Dickinson - it's far more pronounced on a person with a more average figure - but you can see the hint of it here.  In contrast, I think the outfit on the right is more flattering because it creates a smoother line without any bulges of flesh.

However, people who choose high waists and tucked-in shirts see the picture on the left as more flattering, because the belt is cinched tightly around her waist, showing just how small her waist can be made to go. They'd see the picture on the right as less flattering, because it doesn't necessarily demonstrate the minimum possible circumference of her waist.

This isn't just an evolution of fashion trends, it's a complete change in what different people perceive when looking at the exact same thing!  It will be interesting to see how the fashion choices of the belt = thinner contingent evolve as trends change and, eventually, a high waist and tucked-in shirt once again become signs of frumpiness.  I've blogged before about differing generational perceptions of pants length. Maybe in a decade or two, we'll also have differing generational perceptions of waistlines.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Idea density

I've been reading about the famous Nun Study of Alzheimer's disease, and specifically about its findings relating to idea density.

As part of the study, they analyzed essays that the nuns wrote when they were in their early 20s, and found that nuns who didn't get Alzheimer's had higher idea density in their essays, and nuns who did get Alzheimer's had lower idea density.

An example of a sentence with high idea density, taken from this article:

"After I finished the eighth grade in 1921 I desired to become an aspirant at Mankato but I myself did not have the courage to ask the permission of my parents so Sister Agreda did it in my stead and they readily gave their consent."

An example of a sentence with low idea density:

"After I left school, I worked in the post-office."

Interpretations of this finding tend to view high idea density as equivalent to better language skills. But when I read about this, my first thought was that some nuns may have been able to write a more idea-dense essay, but chose not to.  They may have thought a simpler style more appropriate to the purpose of this essay.  They may not have enormous colour to add to this one particular subject.  Maybe they didn't have as much time as they would have liked.  Maybe the pen they were using was uncomfortable to write with. It's possible that their writing style may even have matured away from frills - I know when I was younger, I went through a phase of writing ridiculously (yes, even more ridiculously than now) in an attempt to emulate of the Victorian authors I was reading at the time.

Even if we accept the assumption that high idea density equals better language skills (I'm reminded of the much-attributed "Please excuse the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one."), we have no way of knowing how many of the subjects had higher linguistic ability but chose not to use it to its fullest extent for that particular essay.  What if the true predictor of Alzheimer's is instead whatever process leads the subject to assess that particular essay assignment as more conducive to a simpler writing style?

It would also be interesting to see if the idea density correlation persists over generations.  The various examples of high idea-density sentences I've read seem old-fashioned to me (probably reflecting the fact that the nuns wrote them in the first half of the 20th century), while the low idea-density sentences seemed more timeless. 

Actually, it might also be a function of the specific education the subject received. Someone being trained in writing today would be guided away from certain stylistic elements in the high idea density example given above (although not necessarily from idea density itself), and these elements seemed fairly common in the various examples of high idea density sentences I've read from this study.

It would also be interesting to see if the idea density pattern holds up in other languages.  In my French writing classes, I was nudged towards a higher idea density than I'd land on naturally, although I never find myself wishing for lower idea density as I translate French to English. Other languages might gravitate to lower or higher density for syntactic or cultural reasons, which might change the correlations with Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ideas for the Damage Control LW who wants to avoid disclosing her surgery

I didn't notice this Damage Control column when it first came out, but I have an idea for the letter-writer:

I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.
 The columnist recommends sending a mass email with an explanation, which I strongly disagree with.  Sending this email might give the impression that your private parts are open for discussion, not to mention that people could feel sexually harassed if they started receiving unsolicited emails about their colleagues' private parts. It might be appropriate in certain cases to tell the whole story to one or two selected colleagues one on one, if the subject should come up in an informal private conversation (depending greatly on context and the nature of the specific interpersonal relationship).  It's even plausible that in some offices, with some specific combinations of interpersonal relationships, it might even be appropriate to tell everyone at happy hour or around the water cooler.  But this isn't a subject for an email. I never thought I'd say this, but email's too formal.  If you disclose, it should be in an informal context that's marked as outside the scope of Business.

But as I read the letter, an idea occurred to me for a two-tiered sneaky approach that could be used if she chooses not to disclose the actual nature of her surgery.

Basic sneaky approach: come up with a cover story about how recovering from an unnamed surgery might cause your body to change shape.  For example, "My doctor recommended Pilates to help me regain strength in various areas after my surgery." True but secondary would be best (e.g. if you don't eat as much when recovering from surgery), but false but plausible would work too. Think about this very carefully, so it's consistent with any observable changes to your body after your first surgery and the changes that will be observed in your body after your second surgery, and script a delivery that will allow you to segue away from the topic of your surgery onto other topics (e.g. "But I've only ever tried Pilates mat work, I've never been to a gym where they use those machines. Does your Pilates class use the machines?  What's it like?")  Once you've worked this out, drop it into conversation with a co-worker or two next time the opportunity arises.  Then, if the rumour mill starts discussing the change in your body shape, an explanation straight from the horse's mouth is readily available.

Advanced sneaky approach: do some research and find another kind of surgery that could plausibly require two procedures and have similar recovery time and other observable effects to what your colleagues can observe about you.  I don't have the medical knowledge to come up with a real example, so I'll use a fake example: boneitis.  Suppose you do some research and discover that boneitis surgery can require two procedures, at similar spacing, with similar recovery times, and can result in a similar change in physical appearance.  Now, if you're ever in a situation where people are inquiring about your medical situation, you can hint in the direction of boneitis.  Don't explicitly say you have boneitis! Instead, present as someone who has boneitis and wants to be discreet about it, so that if people google the hints you're dropping, boneitis will come up near the top of the results.

Obviously this is a bit complex, and whether you actually want to do it will depend on how secret you want to keep your medical situation and your own capacity of subterfuge. But it is an option if you're finding it difficult to say nothing, but don't want to actively disclose.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Unnecessary TTC announcements

I was riding a subway northbound on the Yonge line. As we travelled from Davisville to Eglinton, the driver made an announcement: "Attention all passengers: we are currently bypassing Spadina station in both directions on both lines due to a police investigation."

Problem: We were heading north from Davisville to Eglinton, which is directly away from Spadina station.  To be affected by delays at Spadina station, a passenger on our train would have to get out, board a train heading in the opposite direction, and travel quite a few stations.  It's highly unlikely that anyone would do this!

Back in my commuting days, I've been on trains where this happened quite a few times - the driver announces a delay that's behind us, or heading in the opposite direction, and therefore is not going to affect our train at all and isn't going to affect any of the passengers unless they get out and switch to a train heading in the opposite direction.  These aren't system-wide loudspeaker announcements, like you hear made by a pre-recorded voice when waiting on the platform.  These are announcements made specifically by the driver of our one train.

I don't think they should make these announcements. 

One thing I've noticed since I started following @TTCNotices on Twitter is that the vast majority of delays are cleared very quickly, often within just a couple of minutes. I also learned, back in my commuting days, that even delays for which shuttle buses are called are often cleared so quickly that it's better to wait them out than to get on a shuttle bus.

So I think having drivers make a specific effort to announce delays that don't apply to the train will just make passengers unnecessarily worry and stress and think the system is unreliable.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the audio quality of driver announcements is not as good as that of recorded announcements, so it produces some unnecessary "Wait, what did he say?" moments.

If any passengers are going to be affected by the delay in the opposite direction or behind us, they'll have plenty of time to find out when they're waiting on the platform for their opposite-direction trip, or when they look at one of the video screens on the platforms, or when they check Twitter.

But I think nothing is gained by having drivers make an announcement just within their train when the announcement definitely does not apply to that train.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Things They Should Invent: emails that self-delete once they've expired

1. Sometimes I get coupons in my email that are only good for a limited time or on a certain day, or if I spend a certain amount of money.  Often when I get them, I don't immediately know whether I might be making any purchases that qualify. But then, a few days later, I realize that I might possibly have a coupon that matches a purchase I'm going to be making.  So I search for my email, but the results turn up hundreds of coupons (since I never delete anything) and I don't know which ones are still valid and have to open more emails than should be necessary to determine whether there is in fact a relevant coupon.

2. Sometimes I email someone and get an out-of-office message.  If I'm subsequently sending group emails that are only relevant immediately (as opposed to something they'll need when they get back from their absence), I like to leave the people who are absent off the email list.  The easiest way to see who is absent is to visually scan my inbox and see whom I've received Out of Office messages from. (They have a distinctive icon in Outlook, so I can tell at a glance.)  But, again, the problem is that I can't tell at a glance if the out-of-office is still in effect, so I have to open more out-of-office messages than necessary to determine who I should leave off the group emails.

Proposed solution: optional expiry dates in emails.  If the content of the email is expired, the email is deleted from the recipient's inbox.  This would apply automatically to out-of-office messages - once the recipient is back in office, the out-of-office message is deleted from the recipient's inbox.

Variation: recipients can have the option to turn off the self-deleting (either as for all emails in their inbox or on an email-by-email basis), but the default setting is self-deletion once the email expires.

Or if that's just too much to handle, a technological solution for the out-of-office problem would be for automatically-generated out-of-office messages to state the return date in the subject line. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Why young LCBO workers still card me?

One of the things we did in my Sociolinguistics class in university was analyze print advertisements.  While analyzing an ad for some kind of beauty product, the prof asked us who the target audience is.

"Women at the age where they are just starting to see fine lines on their face," said one of my classmates. 

"And what age is that?" asked the prof?

"Late 20s," said one of my older classmates.  The other older classmates and the prof all nodded and murmured assent.

I was rather surprised that the beginnings of wrinkles would turn up while you're still in your 20s, but, being only 19 years old myself at the time, I had no actual frame of reference.

My own fine lines began showing right on schedule,  at the age of 27.  And, since I became aware of them, I also began noticing the presence or absence of lines on other people's faces.  I must have seen people with fine lines before, probably including those of my classmates in that Sociolinguistics class who could attest expertly to when fine lines start making their appearance, but it was never a factor that I took specific note of when processing a face as a whole.

It occurs to me that this might be the answer to the mystery of why younger LCBO workers keep carding me when older workers stopped long ago!

If the younger LCBO workers are like my younger self, they might not notice my fine lines as evidence that I'm no teenager.  But they'd be more likely to notice my acne since they've most likely been through acne themselves.

Similarly, people who haven't started greying yet might not notice my few individual grey hairs (I didn't notice random strands of grey on people who were anything less than salt-and-pepper before I started greying myself), but the fact that my hair is long, which is culturally marked as youthful, is readily apparent to anyone of any age.