Monday, October 19, 2015

Voters' Resources (Canada 2015 edition)

This post is post-dated. If the date and time indicated for this post have not yet passed, there may be new material below it.

Getting Started

Election Day is October 19!

First, go to the Elections Canada website and type in your postal code to find out if you're registered to vote, your riding, your candidates, and where to vote.

If you have not received your voter information card, you can still vote on election day, you just need to take ID. Note that ID requirements have changed since last election. However, you do not necessarily need photo ID.

Your employer has to give you enough time off to ensure that you have three consecutive hours off during polling hours.


The web design trends of 2015 make it difficult to provide a single link directly to parties' platforms (although they're reasonably easy to navigate to visually), so this time I'm providing links to the parties' official websites.

Bloc Quebecois
Conservative Party
Green Party
Liberal Party
New Democratic Party

To help you figure out which party is best for you:

CBC Vote Compass
Political Compass: compare your results on the test with the Canadian political parties chart
I Side With
Maclean's Policy Face-Off

Not all these tools use the same issues or interpret the platforms or relative positions of the parties exactly the same way. It's useful to take all of them and see where they differ, see where they surprise you, and use that information to focus your research.

Strategy and Predictions

My "How to Vote"
My "Where to Vote"
My "How to Vote Strategically"

Riding-by-riding predictions to help you with strategy:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Quarterback (previously called Election Predictor). You need to input poll data into this tool. Poll data is widely available in the media, and in some of the other tools linked here.
- ThreeHundredEight
- How did your neighbourhood vote? (If you're voting strategically, you still have to look at the whole riding rather than the individual polls, but this is still interesting)
- Too Close To Call
- Toronto Star election forecaster. For individual riding projections, scroll down to "Riding Projections", then select your province from the Y axis of the chart.

Other interesting sources

- Pundits' Guide
- Election Almanac

This post will be updated through to Election Day as I find more information. Do you know of anything else that should be included here? Are any of the links dead? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Things They Should Study: how does the gig economy affect productivity?

In economics, they often talk about productivity, most often bemoaning the fact that it isn't high enough.

I wonder if anyone has studied the effect of the gig economy on productivity? Because it seems like it would have a strong negative impact.

For example, a freelance translator has to not only translate, but also handle marketing, advertising, billing, online presence, inquiries from prospective clients, and all the administrative aspects of running a business of which I'm unaware. In comparison, a staff translator spends nearly all their time translating, and their employer's administrative staff deal with most of the rest of that stuff.  So it's easier for the staff translator to be more productive.

I'd imagine the same would hold in most occupations.  And, on top of that, the shorter the gig is, the less productive it is.  If industry standard is six-month contracts and then they transition to three-month contracts, workers have to spend time looking for work (rather than doing work) twice as often, and employers have to spend time hiring twice as often.  More and more person-hours are being spent on the non-productive tasks associated with connecting people with work rather than simply spending the time on work.

I wonder if anyone has yet studied this enough to quantify it?

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Vote Strategically

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

Some people vote for the party whose platform they find most suitable (the Best Party). If that's what you're trying to do, this post isn't for you. Go vote for the Best Party.

Other people try to prevent the party whose platform they find most harmful (the Worst Party) from being elected, by voting for the party that's most likely to defeat the Worst Party (the Compromise Party). This is called strategic voting.

The most important thing about strategic voting is that your strategy has to apply to the reality in your riding. The media feeds us national polls for breakfast every day, but they're not directly relevant. Regardless of what the rest of the country is doing, your vote will only be used to elect the MP for your own riding. If your riding is already disinclined to elect the Worst Party, there's no point in a strategic vote - you'd just end up making the Compromise Party look more popular than they really are.

So here's what to do if your priority is stopping the Worst Party from winning:

1. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's going to win in this particular riding?"

If the answer is a party other than the Worst Party, vote for the Best Party. If the answer is "the Worst Party" or "it's too close to tell," go on to step 2.

2. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's most likely to defeat the Worst Party in this particular riding?"

This is your Compromise Party. Read their platform. If it's acceptable, vote for the Compromise Party. If it's not acceptable, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: ignore the national polls; think only about the situation in your riding!

So now you're thinking:

"But how do I figure out what's going to happen in my riding?"

There are a number of resources to help you do this. Check them all out and see what they say about your riding.

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Quarterback (previously called Election Predictor). You need to input poll data into this tool. Poll data is widely available in the media, and in some of the other tools linked here.
- ThreeHundredEight
- How did your neighbourhood vote? (If you're voting strategically, you still have to look at the whole riding rather than the individual polls, but this is still interesting)
- Too Close To Call
- Toronto Star election forecaster. For individual riding projections, scroll down to "Riding Projections", then select your province from the Y axis of the chart.

Prediction sites update constantly, and I will be updating this list as I find more prediction sites, so check back again closer to election day.  Know of any sites I missed? Share a link in the comments!

Friday, October 09, 2015


I recently saw a video of my 1-year-old baby cousin running up and down a small grassy hill in her local park.

It's quite evident from this video that going up and down a hill is an acquired skill.  She's very clearly working on mastering the balance and motor skills involved, and still learning the effects of gravity and momentum.  Sometimes she stops and seems overwhelmed. Sometimes she has to put her hands down, or sit down and scoot on her bum for a bit. Sometimes she has to stop and move perpendicular to the slope of the hill.  Sometimes momentum overtakes her and she falls flat on her poor little face, giggling all the while.

Watching this, I remembered that sometimes when I was a kid, walking up or, especially, down a big hill seemed far more dramatic than it does now. It felt somehow risky, as though there was a good chance that I might fall. But seeing the situation through the eyes of my baby cousin, I now realize I felt that way because my hill-climbing skills weren't as developed as they are now.

This gave me an interesting idea: what if, at some place and time in human history when people moved around far less than they do now, there was someone who had never climbed a hill?  Perhaps they grew up in the kind of place where you can watch your dog run away for three days, and simply never had cause to stray far from home.  Surely this must have happened to someone, somewhere, within the full range of human experience.

And what if someone who had never climbed a hill then had to travel far away from home and encountered a hill for the first time when they were well into adulthood?  They'd be all "OMG, what's that?  That's unnatural! The gods must be angry!"

And then when they tried to climb the hill, they'd probably get it wrong for the first few times.  Their brain wouldn't know how to bend their legs and shift the balance of their bodies, at least not perfectly.  They'd probably fall down.  It might even look impossible to them, like walking straight up a vertical cliff face looks impossible to us.  They might be standing at the top of what looks to us like a perfectly innocuous hill, getting a wave of vertigo if they look down, going "Are you sure this is safe?"

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Compromises from this week's Ethicist

When I read this week's Ethicist, I kept coming up with ideas for compromises.

My husband’s sister died recently, after a short, unhappy life. In her will, she asked that her ashes be scattered in the ocean near a place she lived during one of the brief happy times of her adult life. Instead, my mother-in-law interred the ashes in a family plot near her home, saying that she needed a focal point for her grief. I realize that life is for the living, and none of us believe that my sister-in-law is watching the proceedings from on high. But I nevertheless feel viscerally appalled by this cavalier contravention of her last wishes. Am I right to be upset? Do we have ethical obligations to the dead? NAME WITHHELD
I wonder if a reasonable compromise if a survivor wants to keep ashes but the deceased wanted them scattered would be for the survivor to keep them for the time being and to provide in their will for the disposition of the ashes in accordance with the deceased's wishes.  Interring them wouldn't be appropriate, but what if the mother kept them in an urn on the mantelpiece for the rest of her life, and then stated in her own will that they were to be scattered in the ocean per her daugther's wishes?

I am a librarian at a large public university. Our library administrators, following a current fad, plan to radically ‘‘downsize’’ the library collection (i.e. throw out a lot of books). Essentially, anything in the general collection that hasn’t been checked out in the past few years is going straight to the trash-hauling bin. I believe that this poorly planned weeding project will do serious damage to a very valuable public resource and that if local researchers knew the scope of devastation underway, they would have strong objections. I have been outspoken enough about my opinion to be in hot water with said administrators. Do I have an ethical responsibility to persist in whistle-blowing? How much personal trouble am I ethically obliged to cause for myself in order to oppose an administrative decision that I believe is not just damaging to our organizational mission but stupid and wrong? NAME WITHHELD
What if, before throwing out the books, they attempted to give them away?  Inform the university community and any other networks of local researchers, and let them salvage whatever they want before it goes straight to the dumpster.  That's not to say that doing this would completely mitigate any detrimental impact, but, from a purely pragmatic perspective, LW's employers may well be more receptive to "Here's a zero-cost way to improve the optics of our plan while better fulfilling our mandate!" than they would be to "No, your plan is bad and wrong! Don't do it!"

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Where to Vote

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

Some people (such as university students renting housing in the community where they go to school or have a summer job who also still have their parents' house as their "permanent address") are in a situation where they could legitimately vote in one of two possible ridings.  This post is intended to help them decide where to vote.

Note that voter ID requirements have changed since the last federal election. Current ID requirements can be found here.)

Where to Vote:

1. If one of the ridings is a really close race, vote in that riding. If both are close, vote in the riding with the closest race. If neither is really close, follow the instructions below.

2. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision for the province (hereafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision for the province (hereafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

3. Based on your own needs and your own vision for the province, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

4. If it's more important to you that the Best Party win, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

5. If it's more important to you that the Worst Party not win, and the Worst Party has a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party in the riding where the Worst Party is most likely to win.

6. If the Worst Party doesn't have a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

Tools to help you figure out which party is most likely to win in your ridings can be found in the How to Vote Strategically post.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Things They Should Invent: user manuals for new homes

For most of the first-time homeowners I know, their first major expense was the result of being unaware of a kind of preventive maintenance that was required.

Solution: whenever a builder builds a new home, they should provide a manual listing all the preventive maintenance that's necessary, how often it needs to be done, and how, exactly, to do it.

 At this point, people usually point me at the Tarion checklists, but they're close to useless if you're a newbie.  For example, the first item in the fall checklist is "check exterior finishes".  What exactly is an exterior finish?  How do you check it? Do you just look at it, or is some kind of testing procedure required?  What exactly are you testing it for?  And if you find a problem, how do you go about fixing it?  (Also, what's the timeline like to fix it?  Do you have to fix it right away or can you wait a day/week/month?)  And is this even something that applies to my condo, or is just it for house people?

I want detail, in writing and with useful illustrations.  As an example, simplified from reality (and therefore possibly not perfectly accurate):
HVAC filter

There's a filter on your HVAC system that needs to be changed once a year to keep your HVAC system running smoothly.

1. The HVAC filter can be found inside this access panel. [illustration]
2. Open the panel by pulling on the left side, as shown. [illustration]
3. The filter is below the access panel. If you look down, you can see the top edge of the filter. Remove it by pulling it upwards, as shown. [illustration]
4. If the filter is visibly dirty, replace it. Replacement filters can be purchased from [source] under part number [number].
5. Insert the new filter by sliding it back down into the bottom of the access panel, in the direction shown [illustration].
Builders should provide instructions at this level of simplicity and clarity for every single kind of maintenance for which homeowners are responsible.  This would significantly reduce the expense and inconvenience of unnecessary emergency repairs, thereby making homeowners feel better about their builder.

Since many of the elements in the maintenance manual will be identical for every home built, and since builders tend to construct homes en masse (either with highrise condos or new subdivisions), the cost per home would be negligible and could easily be passed on to buyers without them even noticing. And since builders likely reuse elements in different projects (for example, my builder has multiple highrise projects in progress as we speak, each with multiple hundreds of units, so I doubt they're going to use a completely different HVAC in each) they could spread out the cost even further.

At this point, some people are probably thinking "But once you get used to being a homeowner, you don't need a manual. You know how things work! That's a lot of effort for something that's just needed by beginners!" 
But think about how many things do come with manuals. Microwaves and phones and TVs and office chairs and alarm clocks and wrinkle cream and frying pans all come with instructions.  So why doesn't the biggest purchase we ever make, which affects every aspect of our life every single day?

If it turns out the manual contains information that's new to you, it's a lifesaver!  And if it doesn't, you just tuck it away in a drawer somewhere like you do with the manual for your coffeemaker or your ceiling fan, and maybe when it comes time to sell your home, the next owner will think it's a lifesaver.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books read in September 2015


1. The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother and Me by Cathie Borrie
2. Muse by Jonathan Galassi
3. Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan
4. Serving Victoria: Live in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
6. Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
7. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton


1. Conspiracy in Death
2. Loyalty in Death
3. Witness in Death
4. Thankless in Death
5. Judgment in Death
6. Betrayal in Death
7. Interlude in Death

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Vote

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

1. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision of Canada (hereinafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision of Canada (hereinafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

2. Based on your own needs and your own vision for Canada, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

3. If it is more important to you that the Best Party wins, vote for the Best Party. If not, continue to the next step.

4. If it is more important to you that the Worst Party does not win, assess the Worst Party's chances of winning in your riding. Not in the country as a whole, just in your riding. If you feel that there's too great a risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party. If you feel the risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding is acceptably low, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: do NOT use national polls to inform any strategic voting you might choose to do. Your vote is only effective in your riding. No matter how earnestly you vote, you cannot cancel out votes in another riding. Vote strategically only if the situation in your very own riding demands it, regardless of what the rest of the country is doing.

Links to party platforms will be provided in the upcoming Voter's Resources post. Further information on how to assess parties' chances in your riding and other aspects of effective strategic voting are provided in the How To Vote Strategically post.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Things They Should Invent: reconcile Vote Compass and Political Compass

When I took the Vote Compass quiz, I was surprised to see that the relative positions of the Green Party, Liberal Party and NDP were different from their relative positions on Political Compass.

I want to make it clear: I'm not complaining that one of the axes is inverted (although it is) or that the scales are different (although they are).  I'm saying that the positions of the parties relative to each other are different on the two tools.

On Vote Compass, the Green Party was the furthest left economically.  In other words, if you drew a line of best fit through the plot of all the parties, their order, from left to right, would be Green, NDP, Liberal and Conservative

On Political Compass, NDP was furthest left economically.  In other words, if you drew a line of best fit through the plot of all the parties, their order, from left to right, would be NDP, Green, Liberal and Conservative.

They can't both be right. Someone, somewhere, must be missing something.  And it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an ordinary voter to figure out who might be missing what.

I'd love to see the Vote Compass people and the Political Compass people get together, discuss their interpretations of the platforms, and arrive at a consensus about the relative positions of the parties.

Both tools are trying to achieve the same thing - trying to give voters objective information about which parties best align with their own political views. They could better achieve this, and appear more objective and more credible, by pooling their respective expertise and arriving at a consensus.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The first jokes

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get to the other side!
That was the first joke I ever learned, when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old.  Before I learned that joke, I had never even heard of the concept of a joke. While googling to learn about its age and origin, I was surprised to discover that it is in fact an anti-joke. Expectations at the time were that the answer would be a humorous punchline, not a simple, practical statement of cause and effect.

But, just like "to get to the other side" was once novel and revolutionary, the basic riddle/joke format of asking a person a question to which you expect an answer so you can give a humorous answer instead was also once new and revolutionary.  Someone, somewhere in history, was the very first person to do it.  And someone was the very first person to think of it!  They not only wrote the joke (and it must have been a good joke for the format to persist), they also thought of the whole format.

I wonder how that very first joke went?  Since it was unprecedented, the person being told the joke probably gave a serious answer to the question, having no way of knowing that anything else might be expected.  Did they get the joke?  Did they think it was funny?  They might not have since it was so unprecedented (and they might feel a bit perplexed or made a fool of because they thought they were being asked for actual information and acted accordingly), but enough people thought it was funny that it stuck.

Q: Knock knock!
A: Who's there?
Q: Boo!
A: Boo who?
Q: Don't cry, it's only a joke!

That was the first knock-knock joke I remember ever being told, also when I was around 3 or 4 years old (probably the same day I learned about the chicken - I have fuzzy memories of a revelatory day when I learned all about jokes), and I didn't get it because I didn't know that "boo hoo" was meant to be onomatopoeia for crying.

Knock-knock jokes also require precedent to function, since they require audience participation. I don't remember being explicitly taught the script, but I must have either been taught it or seen it repeated on TV.

But someone thought of the knock-knock joke, and taught someone else the script so it would function (or, like, wrote it into a play or something).  And, somehow, it stuck!

Someone made the first pun.  Someone was the first to use sarcasm. (And, possibly, someone else was the first person to use it successfully.) Someone was the first to fake farting on the grounds that they thought it was funny.  Someone thought of and carried out the first practical joke.  (It may even have been one of our primate ancestors - I'm sure at some point a monkey has slipped on a banana peel!)  And all of these stuck, and got perpetuated.

What's even more interesting is that an unknowable number of other types of jokes that we've never heard of must have been thought of and attempted throughout human history, but they didn't stick because they weren't funny enough.

And this is still going on!  It's quite possible that right this minute, somewhere in the world, someone is thinking of and attempting an all new type of joke that no one has ever thought of before, only to fail utterly.

It's also quite possible that right this minute, somewhere in the world, someone is thinking of and attempting an all new type of joke that no one has ever thought of before, and it will succeed and spread!  Memes (in the sense of pictures with words on them that circulate on the internet) were developed within my adult life.  Those videos where people caption a Hitler movie to reflect current events started after YouTube was invented, so that's within the last 10 years (and quite possibly much more recently).  Someone might, this very minute, be inventing the next knock-knock joke, which, decades or centuries from now, will be retold by a preschooler who has just learned of the very concept of jokes.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Things They Should Invent: different heating/air-conditioning by-laws for different kinds of buildings

My apartment retains heat.  It holds onto the heat generated by appliances and electronics and me, and heats up as the morning sun shines through the windows.  In the summer, temperature gets warm enough for the thermostat to turn on the air conditioning turns every single day when there's morning sun (and many days when there isn't).

However, because it retains heat so well, in the winter the temperature gets cool enough for the thermostat to turn on the heating an average of one day per year.  Last year it was zero days.  And it only gets that cool if we have the confluence of two sunless mornings plus strong easterly wind plus I don't use the stove during those days.

Because of this, I feel quite strongly that air conditioning is far more important than heating, and would like residential tenancy by-laws to be rewritten so that they don't prioritize heat over air conditioning.

However, not everyone feels this way.  Quite often when I mention it on the internet, someone complains most vehemently that heating is clearly far more important than air conditioning! People would freeze to death if they had to be in a building with no heat, they argue.  I've never been in such a building myself, but they must exist to lead people to feel that way.  If everyone was warm, it wouldn't occur to them that could could be a problem

I previously blogged that they should study whether heat or cold is a problem for more buildings.  But now that I think about it some more, that's actually a red herring.

What they should really do is give buildings a rating for how likely it is to get too warm vs. too cold, and have different by-laws for buildings with different ratings.  Ratings would be determined by an inspection of the building in the summer and in the winter, or some other similarly reliable method. Repeat inspections may be required every X years if buildings evolve or deteriorate enough to justify this.

It could be a simple system with only two ratings ("air conditioning priority building" vs. "heat priority building"), or three ratings ("air conditioning priority building" vs. "heat priority building" vs. "neutral building"), or there could be a more nuanced scale where buildings are given a rating between 1-5 or 1-100 or whatever makes sense.

Using an extremely simple example, suppose buildings are rated "air conditioning priority" or "heat priority", and suppose they continue to use the current calendar-based by-law system rather than switching to a temperature-based system as some recommend.  Heat priority buildings would continue with the current system where the landlord is required to provide heat between September 15 and June 1.  But in air conditioning priority buildings, the landlord would only be required to provide heat between, say, November 1 and April 1.  Or, perhaps, the landlord would be explicitly required to provide air conditioning between May 1 and September 15 (with no explicit requirement of heat, as an analogue to the current lack of explicit requirement of air conditioning).

Basically, the by-laws should be flexible enough to take into account the fact that different buildings of different construction may require different courses of action to provide a comfortable home for tenants.  A one size fits all rule won't work in a city that ranges from Victorian detached houses to glass highrises.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parental influence is terrifyingly persistent

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I asked my mother why the word "university" has the word "universe" in it.  She told me that it's related to the word "universal", meaning "for everyone".  (Which is fairly accurate, according to the OED entry. There are more nuances, but it's a perfectly reasonable explanation if your audience is a small child.)

So I thought about this, and about what I knew about universities.  I'd been on a university campus before, and I knew there were a wide range of people there.  There were old people with beards and white hair, people like my father who worked there, grownups who were younger than my parents walking around in crowds and sometimes doing silly things, and kids like me who took swimming lessons and gymnastics classes on campus. When my parents talked about their time as university students, they mentioned having classmates and professors from all kinds of different places all around the world. And my parents themselves sometimes took continuing education classes at the university.

In short, all kinds of different people from all kinds of different places of all kinds of different ages doing all kinds of different things.  My mother's explanation seemed accurate: universities are for everyone.

What's interesting is the lifelong impact that this little conversation had on my thinking.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine had to kill some time between appointments and was trying to figure out what to do. She was near a university campus, so I suggested that she go on campus and find a coffee shop or a library or a quiet corner with a seat and some wifi.  She was reluctant to do that because she was older than the typical university student and felt like she'd be out of place. But I was completely baffled that anyone could ever feel this way - universities are for everyone!

In my own university classes, we had our fair share of mature students.  I didn't think to question it, because universities are for everyone. I later heard some classmates talk about being weirded out by the presence of older students, and I was shocked into speechlessness that anyone would feel that way. How is it not glaringly obvious that universities are for everyone?

And even now, as an adult who is older than the "older" students whose presence weirded out my undergrad classmates, even knowing that there are undergrad students who feel that way, I wouldn't hesitate to go back to school if I should ever find myself in a situation where it's the correct decision for me.  Because I know, intrinsically and instinctively, that university is for everyone.

I'm quite certain my mother wasn't intentionally trying to instill in me a sense of comfort and belonging at institutions of higher education.  I wouldn't even be surprised if she didn't actually know that the word "university" was in fact derived from the word "universal", and was just saying something that sounded plausible to get me to shut up because that was the 4738th question I'd asked her that day.

But, nevertheless, I internalized this passing remark to the extent that my brain doesn't even question it, even though I know full well that it's just a passing remark that I unduly internalized and that many people in the world believe it to be untrue.

Isn't that terrifying?

Monday, September 07, 2015

The first beauticians

Someone, at some point in human history, was the first person to cut hair.  Maybe they didn't even cut it - maybe they they just broke it off by hand, and later had the idea of applying blades or sharp stones or whatever.

And then, someone was the first person to cut hair for aesthetic reasons (rather than just because it got in the way or "Hey, let's see what happens!").  And someone was the first person to figure out that if you cut it a certain way it will fall a certain way. Someone invented bangs.  Someone invented layers.

Someone invented braiding.  I don't know if they first did it with human hair or to make rope.  The idea of weaving strands together so they'll stay put in a single, cohesive whole had never before occurred to any human being, but someone not only thought of it, but also figured out how to do it.

Someone invented the idea of tying or clipping hair back.  It seems glaringly obvious, but someone must have been the first (even if it was just the first human being who also had their hair get in the way.)  Someone figured out the idea of a hair tie. Someone figured out the idea of a hair clip. Someone figured out a bun, and someone figured out that if you stick a stick through a bun it will stay.

Someone invented shaving. They came up with the idea of scraping the sharp thing along the skin to remove all the hair rather than cutting the hair further from the skin or pulling it out at the root.  Some came up with the paradigm-shifting idea that not having hair where hair naturally grows might be aesthetically superior to one's natural state.  Someone came up with the idea that if you apply stinky gunk to body hair and press a piece of cloth on it and pull the cloth out, the hair will come out.  Someone came up with the idea of inventing chemicals that would cause the hair to just fall out.  Someone though of zapping the hair with electricity and with lasers.

Someone was the first to think of dyeing hair.  Actually, someone was the first to think of dyeing anything. Before that, it never occurred to anyone that you could change the colour of stuff!  Or maybe they stumbled upon it by accident - fell into a vat of blueberry soup or something.

Someone invented piercings.  "So what I'm going to do is stick a sharp thing through your flesh to make a hole. Then you can put shiny things in the hole. It will be pretty!"

For that matter, someone invented jewellery. Someone was the first person to think that wearing shiny things is pretty, and everyone agreed!

Someone invented tattoos.  Someone thought of the idea of drawing something on their body permanently, and someone figured out that if you stick ink in your skin with a needle it will do just that.  Or maybe they didn't intend it to be permanent and it was all an accident! (Although that wouldn't explain why they were sticking ink-covered needles in skin in the first place.)

Friday, September 04, 2015

When the blinking stops

On the front of my cable box is a digital clock, displaying the time in big green letters with the colon between the hours and the minutes blinking once per second.

Every once in a while, I happen to glance at the clock and the colon appears not to be blinking.

I find this hypnotic. 

My eyes are drawn to it like magnets. I cannot blink, cannot move, cannot look away. I stare and stare, mesmerized, until my eyes are about to begin to water.  Then, just as I reach the point where I can no longer fight off the urge to blink my eyes, the clock starts blinking again.

I've always said that one thing I'd wish for if I had a genie was a remote control that can control the passage of time.  I'm sure we've all had that kind of day where we'd love to press the pause button and take a nap.

Maybe these moments where the clock appears to stop blinking is a clue that someone already has one...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Books read in August 2015


1. Thrown by Kerry Howley
2. Architecture in the Family Way: Doctors, Houses, and Women, 1870-1900 by Annmarie Adams
3. Rides (French translation, by Carole Ratcliff, of Arrugas by Paco Roca.  Weirdly, my library didn't have the original Spanish or the English translation, but it did have the French translation.)
4. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
5. Studio Grace: The Making of a Record by Eric Siblin


1. Vengeance in Death
2. Holiday in Death
3. Midnight in Death

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?