Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Variations on the theme of looting

Interesting point on language use. I'll have to watch that in media coverage in the future.

I don't think the word "looting" should apply to taking food, water, batteries, and other necessities for oneself and one's dependents (in the functional sense of the word rather than the legal sense). That should be forgiven. Ideally one should anonymously send a bit of cash and an apologetic explanation to the store owner afterwards, but even if one doesn't it's easily forgiveable. This is "finding."

Then we need another level called "taking". This is for things that aren't necessities, but are quite important to help in the crisis. One of those solar/crank-powered radios, deodorant, a toy or book to amuse the kids, even a toy or book to amuse yourself if you're in a position where you have nothing else to do but wait. To do this in a civilized manner, you shouldn't break and enter (enter somewhere that's already broken into and don't do any further property damage) and make sure to leave some money or send some money as soon as possible. And, of course, if any stores are open, you should buy from them in the normal manner.

The word "looting" should only count when taking something for pure profit or to take advantage of the situation. Home electronics, jewelry, designer clothing that is not strictly needed, huge quantities of food or other necessities with the intent to set up a black market, etc. This one should be looked upon shamefully.

It's one thing to steal necessities when all the stores are closed and there's no way to buy them legitimately. It's quite another thing to approach a natural disaster with the attitude "How can I profit from this?"

How to evacuate in style

Hurricane Katrina has me wondering what I'd do if I had to evacuate the city. Neither I nor any of my friends in the city have cars, and I really can't see hitchhiking.

Then I realized I'm going about it all wrong.

Assuming there's a day or two warning, I would pack a suitcase, grab my emergency credit card, and head straight to the domestic terminal of the airport. I would then get on the first available flight to anywhere. Land in some city, check into a decent hotel for a couple of nights, and wait out the storm with movies and room service.

Yes, I know not everyone has the means to do that, but now this is off my "to worry about" list.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Killed and injured or wrongfully detained?

In a Letter to the Editor in the Globe and Mail, one Teck Yap asks: "Would you rather see some people wrongfully detained or many people killed or injured?" [That is the entire text of the letter as it appeared in print.]

I cannot answer that question unless someone can first clearly demonstrate to me that this is an either/or situation - that detaining people without full proof etc. actually does prevent people from being killed an injured. Then it's a question of the details of how many people are detained vs. killed and injured, and the exact conditions of the detentions, deaths and injuries.

However, I can tell you that I, personally, would rather be killed or injured than wrongfully detained.

Why? Well, if I were wrongfully detained it is quite likely that I would be sexually humiliated, maybe even sexually assaulted, and kept in a cell where bugs would crawl all over me, all this for an indefinite period of time. I would come out permanently damaged psychologically, unable to support myself or contribute effectively to society, and would spend the rest of my days looking for an opportunity to commit suicide, if I were not tortured to death during my wrongful detention.

I would find it a much more desireable fate to come to a quick and painless end, or even a bloody and dirty end without ever having to be sexually humiliated, sexually assaulted, or have bugs crawl all over me.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Academic year conspiracy theory

I think universities begin their school year in early September because the campuses are still lush and green and the weather is quite pleasant. One can sunbathe and enjoy the outdoors and sit on patios into the long evenings enjoying one's newfound right to imbibe freely.

Then the air becomes cool and crisp and the leaves turn, invoking cultural nostalgia for archetypal academia - sweaters, coffee, stimulating intellectual discussion. The very act of going to a lecture or writing a paper seems somehow glamorous.

Then, by the time the leaves fall and daylight savings time ends and the cold drives students from the lush, manicured campus grounds into their tiny, bleak res rooms, it is too late to drop the whole thing and get one's money back.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Questions arising from New Orleans

1. Apparently the roads heading out of New Orleans are all gridlocked. Question: How, logistically, does that happen? Everyone is trying to go a very long distance in the same direction at the maximum speed possible. So how does that lead to everyone being stuck?

2. When a city must be fully evacuated, is there some provision for people who don't have cars?

It's not a bridge!

We (or at least the Torontonians among us) have all seen the picture of that section of Finch Ave. that collapsed during that crazy rainstorm a couple weeks back.

I always thought the collapsed section was a bridge.

Turns out it wasn't a bridge! Check out these before, during and after photos! It may have been a culvert, I'm not sure, but from the perspective of someone standing on the street, it looked like perfectly ordinary street that was level with the ground!

I never thought I'd have to worry about apparently solid ground collapsing beneath my feet like a bridge!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

How much I hate radio commercials

Despite the huge drop in programming quality resulting from the CBC lockout, I still find it a better radio station to listen to in the morning simply because it doesn't have any commercials! I can't stand radio commercials! I'm not sure whether it is ethical for me to be listening to it during the lockout (I'm a union member myself and I don't want to scab), but I have listened to it a few times, and despite the sheer mediocrity and lack of the usual interesting and informative programming, it is still far better than the aggravation of listening to the commercials on commercial radio.

Parents and respect: a reality check

One of the things I find most unpleasant about parents (and, I would like to emphasize, by "parents" I'm not referring to anyone specifically; I am thinking more of a generalized aggregation of all the parents, real and fictional, with whom I am familiar) is that many of them - or perhaps a very vocal minority - seem to think they deserve an inordinate amount of respect, from their children and from societym just for being their parents.

Of course, everyone deserves a certain amount of respect. We all start at the "basic human respect" level, and then gain or lose points based on our actions. However, some parents don't seem to have an accurate notion of how many respect points they deserve. Therefore, in the shower this morning, I created this handy guide:

Bringing a child into the world: No points by default, although the child has the discretion to grant you as many points as they wish. "But but but..." No. See, the thing is, the child didn't ask to be born. I know that for some people being alive is a great wonderful exciting privilege. If that is the case, I envy you your joyful life. But for others it isn't particularly positive, and may even be negative. A great many people, if asked "How would you feel if you had never been born?" would reply "Well, I really wouldn't care, would I?" So it is possible that you might get points for this, but it is entirely up to your child, so don't depend on it.

Providing a child with the necessities of life: For succeeding in providing the child with all the necessities, you get exactly as many points as you get for providing yourself with all the necessities, because this is simply the most basic of duties, not some great heroic action. However, if you fail to provide the child with all the necessities, you lose more points than you would lose for failing to provide for yourself, because the child has even less control over the situation than you do.

Doing things that are not necessary, but that you think are good for the child: The level of respect you get from society will increase or decrease based on how good society thinks these things are. The level of respect you get from the child will increase or decrease based on how much benefit the child feels they are getting. This means that if the child doesn't like eating a diet completely free of fat or sugar or going on month-long camping trips during mosquito season to build character, you are going to lose respect points from the child, no matter how valuable you believe these actions are.

Actions or parenting policies that lose the child respect from their peers: Society will judge this on a cost-benefit basis, but the child will judge it solely based on what they have to put up with in the playground. I will explain this with an analogy. Several times I have heard people (both parents talking about their children and non-parents talking about their future children) say something along the lines of, "In principle, don't mind the idea of them indulging moderately in various minor controlled substances, but there is the tricky matter of my being held legally accountable for whatever goes on in my own home." Similarly, whatever parenting policies you implement, your child is going to have to pay for on the playground. For example, you might think it's good and frugal to buy clothes only at the discount store, and, after all, your kids should be taught not to set great store by appearances anyway, but the fact remains that if your child's classmates have decided that wearing discount store clothes is a spit-worthy offence, your child is going to be spat on. Their respect for you will decrease accordingly, because they see you as the one who put them into this situation. Society will be a little more lenient, however, and will likely forgive you if you could not reasonably have known.

Teaching your child stuff: This depends on what you are teaching your child. If you are teaching them skills, or stuff that is generally considered by society as a whole to be "good", you gain points - both from child and from society. If you teach them stuff that is generally considered by society to be bad, you lose points for brainwashing your child - and you lose extra points from your child for making them into a social misfit against their will. If you teach your child a skill that they would have been taught anyway, you only get points for the extra period of time that they know this stuff. For example, if you teach your child to read at age 3, but in normal school they would have been taught to read at age 5 anyway, you only get two years' worth of points, rather than a lifetime's worth. But if you teach them a skill they would never have learned otherwise, you gain a lifetime's worth of points. This category also includes situations where you arrange to have your child taught by a trained professional.

Paying for your child's post-secondary education: This really depends on the situation. Any points gained are automatically lost if you use the fact that you are paying for their education to attempt to control the minutiae of your adult child's everyday life. Points are gained if you paid for it unconditionally. However, you gain fewer points - and it moves closer to "providing for the necessities of life" - if you have in any way, intentionally or unintentionally, hindered your kid's ability to pay for it themselves. It then becomes less a source of extra respect and more basic human decency. For example, if you insisted upon taking long family vacations every year and would not allow your kids to stay home over the summer to work, you are then obligated to make up for the difference and chip in yourself. If you make so much money that your child cannot get student loans, you'll have to either co-sign on a private loan or help them out yourself. Intentionally hindering your child's education loses more points than contributing to your child's education gains.

There were more things I wanted to put, but I forgot.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Brilliant Ideas that will Never Work: rapprocher toutes les langues du monde

In order to make it easier for future generations to learn foreign languages, whenever a new object or concept is invented, it should be given the same name in every language. Overcoming the millions of sociopolitical barriers to this policy is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The problem with updating live

Click on the image above to see a screenshot of the CP24 website as it appeared on August 23, 2005, at 12:28 p.m. EDT.

I have not altered the picture at all - any forensic graphics geeks out there can confirm that. I think blogger converted it a .jpg, but I uploaded it as a bitmap.

This shows the problem of updating your website live instead of updating the whole thing then uploading all at once.

(For those who don't follow Toronto current events: the blonde woman is convicted - and recently released - rapist and serial killer Karla Homolka. The caption does not refer to her - it linked to a story about a completely unrelated sexual assault case.)

"I wish I hadn't given it up"

I've heard tell of grownups who took music lessons when they were a kid, then gave it up, and then as grownups were all regretful that they'd given it up. When I was young, I was not allowed to stop taking piano lessons because an aunt or some other random relative regretted having given it up as a kid.

So why don't these grownups just take up music again and stop complaining? It's not that hard - your starter keyboard or guitar can be had for a few hundred dollars, and sheet music is readily available commercially, on the internet, and in public libraries.


Something I was pondering today. While I've tried to phrase it so that it's more universally applicable, I'm afraid my roots are still showing:

Self-control and "good"ness are often associated with each other, the conventional wisdom being that human beings are not naturally "good" and we need to apply self-control in order to be "good". (For the purpose of this example "good" means precisely whatever the reader thinks it does.)

Suppose for a moment there is a person who requires no self-control whatsoever to be "good". They simply wander through life, doing whatever it occurs to them to do at any given time, and the results are entirely, without exception, "good". There's no self-control, no self-discipline, no self-denial, no effort. Everything they do is "good" because it simply does not occur to them to do anything that's considered less than perfectly "good".

Now suppose there's another person who is also "good" for their entire life, every word and every deed. However, this person has to make a continuous, concerted, deliberate, conscious effort to be "good". If they did whatever it occurred to them to do - like the first person does - everything they did would be completely "bad". However, they want, for whatever reason, to be "good", so they exercise self-control, self-discipline, self-denial at every turn, and as a result their actions all end up being "good".

So which of these two people is ultimately more "good"?

Youthful hijinks

In cases where respectable, well-established older/middle-aged people committed minor crimes or misdemeanours (in the general sense of the word) in their youth, these incidents are often casually written off as "youthful hijinks". This is not always unjustified, as I'm sure everyone would agree that decades of positive contributions more than make up for, say, an isolated pre-teen shoplifting incident.

However, there are some problems with this attitude.

The first problem is that the fact that a misspent youth is so easily, so casually written off, that it completely devalues a person's youth itself. So people whose youth was productive and respectable get no credit for it! I'm not saying that we should all live or die by our high school years, but it's got to be frustrating to see, say, your adolescent tormentor get treated as just as much of a good person as you are, despite the fact that they made everyone's life a living hell for 10 years while you put up with that living hell to be a model student and citizen.

The second problem is that writing off the behaviour of youth of the past also writes off the value of youth of the present. The tacit assumption of the "youthful hijinks" excuse is "they didn't know what they were doing because they were young." This then leads to the assumption that young people in general don't know what they are doing, thus immediately devaluing the actions and thoughts and ideas and goals of young people. If someone's youthful criminal record can be dismissed with a wave of the hand as inconsequential because they didn't know what they were doing, then a young person's desire to start a business or get married or pursue an unorthodox career path can be dismissed just as readily, as a young person who doesn't know what they're doing. Just a phase.

The result of these two problems is that it disenfranchises the youth of today. They see that by the time everyone is 35 nothing they did will "count" any more, and they see that anything they do now will be written off as "they don't know what they're doing". So why make the effort? People with a very active desire to be a good person and a good citizen will still make the effort - although they might not get the credit for it that they should - but people who favour the path of least resistance certainly have no motivation to better themselves.

"It's just a phase!"

Parents say this all the time about children, and the implication is that the things that are important to the child shouldn't be taken seriously because the child might outgrow them. Sometimes the implication is even that it's wrong for the child to be interested in something because they won't necessarily be interested in it forever.

That's utterly ridiculous. Just because a person won't be AS enthusiastically interested in something for their entire life doesn't mean that it's of no value right now!

Think of the music you listened to in high school. Think how important it was to you then, how much it contributed to your life, how much value it had. Is that same music still as important to you right now? Maybe, maybe not. But if it isn't, that doesn't negate the fact that it was important back in high school. Just because your musical needs were different then doesn't negate the fact that certain music filled those needs.

Grownups go through phases too. My father goes through phases about what beverage he drinks with his meals. For a while he drank milk, then orange juice, then tomato juice, then water...I don't know what he's drinking now because I no longer live with him, but in general he drinks one thing exclusively for a while, then changes. I'm sure that if he asked for a glass of water no one would say "Pshhh! That's just a phase!" in a tone that implies that he really shouldn't be asking for a glass of water because when he's older he's going to want something else to drink with his meal. Even if he never feels like a glass of water again in his life, that does not negate the fact that he would like one right now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cool thing about Sims 2

In Sims 2, if a child gets taken away from a family by a social worker, then another family asks to adopt a child, they'll get the kid that was taken away from the first family!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Because I like this quiz

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

You are Samwise Gamgee

A brave and loyal associate full of optimism, you remain true to your friends and their efforts, to whatever end.

But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Samwise is a character in the Middle-Earth universe. You can read more about him at

Ethical dilemmas

1. Living alone and eating out for five meals a week, I cannot eat a head of lettuce before it goes bad. Is it more ethical to buy salad in a bag, thus increasing my ecological footprint and creating demand for imported and packaged produce, or to buy lettuce in heads and end up throwing away food on a regular basis?

2. In the summer, I close my curtains so that the sunlight doesn't warm my apartment. However, sometimes I need light to see what I'm doing. Is it better to open my curtains, thus causing my apartment to heat up and creating more work for the air conditioner, or to turn on a light, thus using electricity by having a light on in the middle of the day?

3. Sometimes I can't finish a library book by the due date, and the overdue fine amounts are painless to me. Does the fact that I am giving money to the library - a very worthy cause! - compensate sufficiently for the inconvenience I am causing to my fellow citizens by keeping books too long? Is there a threshold number of days/amount of money at which this changes?

4. I have distributed computing software on my computer that is working to cure cancer. Does this justify the increased environmental footprint of leaving the computer on when I'm not using it? Is there a threshold in the balance between electricity demand and computing power where this changes?

5. I've injured my foot slightly. It's basically the minimum injury that would cause me to take care of it and attend to it - any less injury and I would be blithely ignoring it. However, the injury hasn't done much damage to my pace - I'm still passing the majority of the able-bodied people I'm sharing the sidewalk with. The only visible manifestations of my injury are a slight limp and the fact that I'm wearing runners instead of heels. However, I do need to take care of my foot so it doesn't get worse. Does this make me more entitled to a seat on the subway than the average able-bodied person?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Zonin Terre Palladiane Soave

This is the first Soave I've ever tried. I read that the word Soave means "smooth" in Italian. The wine is mostly smooth, but it has a bit of a taste at the end that I can only describe as "nutty" - nutty in the way Swiss Cheese is nutty, not nutty like actual nuts. It's pretty decent, but I didn't find it really superlative.

Sleep poll

This is a poll. Please respond in the comments. Anonymous comments are welcome in polls.

Apparently, it takes the average person seven minutes to fall asleep. I find this difficult to believe.

How long does it take you to fall asleep?

It takes me like 2 hours.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Things They Should Invent: Partial Marriage Contracts

The institution of marriage has a lot of different aspects. There's the romantic aspect. There's the forever aspect. There's the fact that spouses are automatically each other's next of kin. There's the fact that they are to be treated as a unit, legally and socially. There's the fact that they live together. There's the fact that they often have children together.

However, sometimes a person might be in a relationship that has some of these aspects, but not all. This kind of relationship, even though they are likely the most important relationship in the person's life, has no legal or social status. You might want to share a home or raise a child with someone, but not want a romantic relationship with them. You might want to be legally considered a household unit, but not want the obligation of "forever." You might fully intend to love someone forever, forsaking all others, but the two of you just cannot manage to live together.

So what we need is legally binding contracts that involve only some of the aspects of marriage. For example:

The common-law contract: I use the word common-law because this most resembles the concept currently described as common-law marriage. However, the problem with common-law marriage is that a cohabiting couple are automatically considered common-law after a certain period of time. So if you've been together romantically for 10 years but only moved in together last week, you don't get any of the benefits of common-law marriage. Conversely, if you've been living together for a year (I think it's 1 year - if not, insert the appropriate period of time) then you are automatically considered common-law married, whether you like it or not. The alternative I propose is that two people living together sign a contract that makes them "partners". They are then considered a family-style household, rather than roommates, with all the related legal benefits. Perhaps there could be a temporary version and a permanent version, with the permanent version requiring a "divorce" and splitting of assets if the relationship comes to an end. The common-law contract would not have the implication of a romantic relationship, although the couple is certainly free to have a romantic relationship if they choose. They would be considered equal to a married couple under etiquette, so they'd be invited to weddings etc. together. A couple doesn't have to live together for a certain period of time - they can sign the common-law contract on the very day they move in together, if they so choose.

The next-of-kin contract: This is a public declaration of a certain person as your next of kin. I am aware of the existence of living wills, but if no one can find your living will (or you're unconscious and can't tell them where it is) then your next living relative will be considered your next of kin, even if you want it to be your best friend or your roommate or your longtime lover. With this contract, your next of kin will be as much a matter of public as your spouse.

The non-cohabiting marriage contract: I know a number of couples who love each other forever, but simply are not compatible to live together. The stress of living together would ruin their relationship, so they live apart. By all rights they should get to enjoy the benefits of marriage, but their marriage would be considered null and void in our society, which makes living apart for a prolonged period of time grounds for divorce. Under this contract, a couple would get all the benefits of marriage, with the implications of romance and forever, but they would be permitted to maintain separate households. Under etiquette and "morality" they are considered a married couple, so they are invited to social events together, and it is just as acceptable for them to share a bed as it is for a cohabiting married couple.

The co-parenting contract: Suppose you want to have a child, but you do not have an appropriate romantic partner with whom to have a child. But suppose you know someone who would be the perfect co-parent, they just aren't appropriate to be a romantic partner. They might be an incompatible sexual orientation, or they might be a blood relative, or they just might be someone with whom you are not romantically compatible. Under this contract, two people can legally be considered primary custodial parents of a child without the other implications of marriage. They may live together or apart (although logistically they would probably have to live at least close to each other), and they can share the other legal benefits of marriage. They can be considered a couple socially, or they might prefer not to - it's up to them. I am aware of adoption, but this system is specifically designed to normalize the concept of two roommates parenting a child together.

Things I don't understand

One thing I really don't understand is people with absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for complaining/bad moods.

This seems to be primarily an internet phenomenon. Someone in a blog or an online community or a character in work of fiction being discussed complains about something or is having a hard time or is anything other than bright and cheerful and amusing, even for a moment, and someone is jumping down their throat telling them to stop moaning and complaining and be fun and amusing again. (Which I, personally, find more annoying than the original complaining - and I haven't even had this happen yet when I was the one complaining!)

I find myself wondering what it's like to be in that kind of brain, because I really cannot wrap my mind around being so pissed off that someone is in a bad mood that you feel the need to reprimand them. I have had situations where I found someone's bad mood tiring, but my instinct is to help them if I can, and then back off until I and they get into a place where their mood does not exhaust me. I cannot fathom a grown adult having so little patience and/or empathy and/or tact that they feel the need to scold people who are in a bad mood or having a difficult time for not being completely cheerful.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Focusing on one's career

I don't like it when people say that I'm "focusing on [my] career." I find that phrase is kicked around a lot to mean "not married/not breeding", but the thing is, I'm NOT focusing on my career. Yes, I have a job. I go to work and I earn money to support myself, because I am not independently wealthy. But "focusing on one's career" sounds cold, calculating, driven, Slytherin, as though I'm trying to manoeuvre my way to the top or into some desirable position, which I'm not.

I'm focusing on mi cielito and my friends and loved ones and on becoming a well-read, well-rounded individual. I am not yet married because of my youth, combined with various circumstances beyond my control, and I am not breeding because I don't want to. My career has nothing to do with it. It's just a job where I exchange my expertise for financial security, is all.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I am in love with the protagonist of this book. He is my soulmate. Unfortunately, he's only nine years old. And fictional.

He's an eccentric, eclectic little boy, possibly with Asperger Syndrome. His father died in the World Trade Centre, and he's on a mission to find the lock that belongs to a key left behind by his father. But this summary hardly does justice to the story. It's beautiful and tragic and bittersweet and better than the sum total of thoughts I'll ever have in my life. And the author's only three years older than me. (Insert brief OMG I'll never amount to anything angst here).

This book is on par with Life of Pi or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Read it now!

The weather, the weather, let's blog about the weather

Today was awesome!

The storm was so bad around 3-4 that we had literally zero visiblity out the windows of the office! Thunder was rumbling constantly! Unfortunately my cube doesn't have a window, so I didn't get the full visual effect.

I had the good sense to take the bus home from the subway, so I only had to walk one very short (urban residential) block, but I got - literally! - soaked to the skin! I was wearing long pants and a 3/4-sleeve blouse and carrying an umbrella, but I got so wet that when I got home I had to change all my clothes - even my underthings! I was wearing shoes with about a 2-inch platform, but the rivers of water flowing along the roads were well up to my ankle. There was even water bubbling up out of manholes!

My balcony is a swimming pool despite the fact that its walls are solid concrete and it's completely overhung by the balcony above, my purse is soaked through despite the fact that it's scotchguarded leather, and i had to towel off my calves and feet because they were so wet, despite the fact that i was wearing long pants.

Now THIS is weather!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Technical difficulties

When I try to access and, I get an HTTP 400 Bad Request error. I have disconnected and reconnected my DSL, and it persists. I'm using Sympatico.

I don't expect any good to come of this post - it's just Google fodder.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

My brain hurts

There are fish in Lake Ontario.

There are fish in Lake Erie.

Lake Ontario is connected to Lake Erie by Niagara Falls.

So how did the fish get up and/or down the falls?????

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Thank you to all the Gaza protestors for proving my long-argued point that just because a leader encourages or implements a particular policy doesn't mean the people are going to go along with it.

Things that occurred to me today while I was trying to work

1. From a purely logical perspective, sneezing should have just as much comic value as farting.

2. If there is a god, it should, being omnipotent, be able to communicate to every single human being what it wants us to do or believe in such a way that every single human being will understand and obey. However, the human race is not unanimous on what our gods want us to do or believe. This leaves us with four options: a) there is no god, b) there is a god and it doesn't care what we do or believe, c) there is a god and it doesn't want the same thing of every individual, so each of us is already doing what this god wants us to do or believe, or d) there are many gods, all with differing expectations, and we each fall under the jurisdiction of different ones.

3. Parents complain about their kids "talking back". Sometimes they even punish them for it. Isn't that the stupidest thing ever to define as a misbehaviour? "OMG! My kid didn't just quietly accept what I said without questioning it and is instead apply critical thinking skills and/or asking follow-up questions! OMG! My kid didn't psychically pick up that this is the point at which I arbitrarily wanted them to shut up!"

4. In ecology, the word "hazing" is used to mean frightening wildlife for their own protection - for example, scaring waterfowl away from areas where there is an oil spill. I was translating a text on this topic, and was having trouble looking up the names of various devices used for hazing. Most of the names were pretty self-explanatory, so I was checking the most obvious translations by typing them into Google. I ended up getting a surprising number of those word list pages that are intended to redirect searchers towards porn. I wonder why? I had no idea that the word "hazing" could be a porn keyword. Dare I search Urbandictionary to find out what it means in this context?

Monday, August 15, 2005


Seen at the bank: a lady standing at the ATM with her feet in ballet fifth position.

Seen at the supermarket: a little old man, physically frail and perhaps mentally frail, holding a single can of frozen Old South orange juice from concentrate like it was the single most important, most wonderful, thing in the world.

Seen in the square: a guy on rollerblades with a remote-control car. He'd send the car off somewhere, then skate after it.

Seen in the mall: a man holding an incredibly tiny baby. It looked like it had once been a preemie and hadn't quite grown into its age.

Seen walking down the street: a little old lady with one of those little old lady buggies, with a little fluffy white dog sitting in the buggy.

Why I choose to boycott Karla

It's not that I don't think people should be allowed to see this movie, it's that I think it's completely distasteful for anyone, anyone at all, from a director to a cinema operator, to be making money off of this story.

I want to make it perfectly clear, this is personal.

If you had one car drive from Lesley Mahaffey's house to Kristen French's house and another car drive from Kristen French's house to Leslie Mahaffey's house, they would meet up not too far from where I grew up.

I bear a strong resemblance to Kristen French. When I got my grade 8 grad photos back, the first thing that struck me was how much they look like Kristen French's grade 8 grad photos. She looks more like me than my own sister does.

I, and all my classmates, spent those years living in fear. We had no way of knowing that we wouldn't be next. We were trained to walk far enough away from the road so that people in passing cars couldn't reach out and grab us.

I decided that I would rather die than be raped. I role-played in my head, lay awake at night thinking of escape strategies, self-defence strategies, how I would trick or taunt or manipulate the rapist into pulling the trigger before he got to undoing his pants. I was 11 years old at the time.

I know that the only reason it wasn't me was because I was lucky. Just a stroke of dumb luck, that's all. The fact that they never chose to cruise my neighbourhood at a time when I was out and about.

I wouldn't want people making money off of the story of my torture, and I know that it's only because of dumb luck that I wasn't the one tortured. Therefore, I will not be seeing this movie, I will not be seeing any movie that plays in a cinema that is also showing this movie, and I full expect that all right-thinking people who lived in the area at this time to do the same.

Perhaps some random person in California doesn't understand what it was like to be there, but I sincerely hope that in 416 and 905 there's a huge revenue hole, perhaps large numbers of cinemas opting out because their audiences aren't interested.

Rational or no, those of us of a certain age and geographical origin feel like nothing more than serendipitous survivors. We don't want it banned because we deem it offensive, we want every individual to choose not to see it and every cinema to choose not to show it, out of respect for the victims, who could just as easily have been us.

I wouldn't want random people making money off of the story of my torture; Kristen French, Leslie Mahaffey, Tammy Homolka and Jane Doe all deserve the same.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A challenge

Open your mouth wide, and then breathe through your nose - and ONLY your nose.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this really hard! My brain is saying "WTF? Why should I have to breathe through those tiny little nostrils when there's this great big mouth that's open anyway?"


I've noticed that when my Sims are "friends", they do this big complicated jive-style secret handshake to greet each other. But once their friendship escalates to "best friends", they just greet each other with a calm, subdued acknowledgement.

I think this reflects reality. When you're just new friends with someone, you want them to like you, so you try to show them how cool you are. But once you're true friends, you can just be every aspect of yourself, skinny legs and all.

Cypress Cabernet Sauvignon

I like this one, because it's much fruitier than cab. sauvs. usually are. I don't know if that means it's a good cab. sauv. or a bad cav. sauv., but I like it. It also has a screwcap, which the label calls a "Stelvin closure", perhaps to avoid getting stuck with the "screwcap wine" reputation. Or perhaps so that when people Google for screwcap wine, they won't come up with Cypress. Well, I have just foiled that nefarious scheme!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Interrogating political candidates

Anyone who wants to be leader of a country should be asked, and have to publically answer the following question:

"How would you effectively resolve [situation*] without using any military force whatsoever?"

*[situation] being any still-relevant situation that is currently or was recently addressed by the country in question or one of its allies through the use of military force.

Regardless of whether you are a pacifist, or you believe military force is sometimes justified, or you're something of an enthusiast looking for any opportunity to war-monger (or is it monger war?), the answers that potential leaders give to that question would be very enlightening indeed.

Two public service announcements

1. We know the term Indian used to be used to refer to North American Aboriginal people, and we know that term is inaccurate and outdated. There are many words and phrases that can be used instead, depending on the context. However, the phrase "Native Indian" is not one of these. "Native Indian" implies, even more so than "Indian", a native of India. It only exacerbates the problem with the term Indian.

2. If you are loudly discussing the purchase and sale of illegal narcotics, it isn't a bad idea to switch away from English when you hear a stranger approaching. However, switching to Spanish may not grant you total privacy, because a great many people speak Spanish. Not only is it a common world language, but it is also taught in schools. Try Basque or Guarani or Xo if you want a language that passer-by are les likely to understand.

This has been a public service announcement.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

You can't compare price per volume of different products!

Attention people who keep comparing the cost per litre of gasoline with the cost per litre of other consumer products:


Different products are used in different quantities and for different things.

Water/coffee/alcohol/vinegar/perfume are used for completely different things than gasoline, and different quantities consitute a "serving".

Parallel comparisons: When baking, you use several cups of flour and only a pinch of baking powder. Therefore, a litre of flour will not last nearly as long as a litre of baking powder, so it doesn't make sense for them to cost the same.

I use a generous dollop of shampoo every day, but only a spritz or two of perfume on special occasions. Therefore, a litre of shampoo won't last nearly as long as a litre of perfume, so it doesn't make sense for them to cost the same.

In a typical day, I drink one glass of wine and several litres of water. Therefore, a litre of wine will last me far longer than a litre of water, so it doesn't make sense for them to cost the same.

If you must insist on comparing the cost of gasoline with the cost of other products, compare the price of how much you need to get through the typical day, not how much it costs per litre. A litre is meaningless as a basis for comparison.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Things They Should Invent: reduced rent for non-air-conditioned rental housing

There was some discussion a month or two ago about the possibility of requiring landlords to provide air conditioning in the summer (the same as they're required to provide heating in the winter), but for various reasons that was found to be a non-viable idea.

However, we still have the problem that many people, including the poorest, are living in non-air-conditioned housing in this ridiculous weather, and either aren't able to afford a window air-conditioner, or aren't able to afford the increased electricity bill.

So I propose a solution: if the landlord is unable or unwilling to provide air conditioning, they must provide a rent reduction for each day when the temperature (including humidex) exceeds a certain threshold. The tenant can take this as compensation for their inconvenience, and perhaps use the money to purchase an air conditioner themselves.

A few sample formulae for how this would work out. I'm going to use 26 as the threshold because it makes sense to me. Please note that I have no idea what landlord profit margins are like, so I don't know if the numbers themselves are plausible

The simplest formula is that the percentage rent reduction for the day is equal to the maximum temperature (including humidex) for that day. Let's assume that the monthly rent is $900, which is a bit low, but it's a nice round number to work with. That would work out to $30 rent per day. Now, today the temperature reached a high of 39 with humidex. So you'd get a 39% discount on your rent. That's a discount of $11.70, which means that for today you'd pay $18.30 rent instead of $30.

Another possible fomula would be to take into consideration both the daytime high and the nighttime low. This is because there is a huge difference between a hot day with a cool, fresh night and a hot day when the humidity does not break overnight. So suppose the percentage discount is the average of the daytime high and the nighttime low. The highest temperature today was 39. The lowest the temperature (with humidex) reached last night was 29. That makes an average of 34. So the rent would be reduced by 34%, a reduction of $10.20, for a total day's rent of $19.80. But if the overnight temperature had gone down to a nice balmy 15, there would be a rent reduction of only 27%.

These rent reductions might sound extreme, but they're using extreme temperatures. Using the threshold of 26 and weather records from The Weather Network, there would be no rent reduction whatsoever on a statistically normal day.

If utilities are included in the rent, the landlord shouldn't have to pay as much of the rent reduction, because they'll be absorbing some of the cost of operating an air conditioner, should the tenant be able to purchase one.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

I felt vaguely dissatisfied with this book. I can't quite place why. I spent most of the book wondering why the protagonist never had to deal with the consequences of his actions, but then when the consequences did come about, I found myself thinking "But that's not fair!"

I think it's quite possible that I didn't fully "get" it because of the cultural divide. The setting is in the British upper classes in the 1980s, which is as foreign to me as, like, Cajuns on the bayou in 1806. I'm sure there were some elements of interpersonal relationships that the authors intended as a given but I completely missed.

However, there were two things I particularly enjoyed about this book:

1. It showed the protagonist before he knew about AIDS and after he knew about AIDS. This was interesting because I've never not known about AIDS. I knew what AIDS was before I knew what sex was. Obviously I didn't fully comprehend what AIDS was, but I knew it was some kind of stigmatized disease that men got, although public service announcements said that we shouldn't stigmatize it. I also knew it had something to do with "being gay" (although I didn't know what gay meant at the time - it was one of those indefinite schoolyard insults). I also knew at the time that "condoms" (which I didn't know what they were - I had once seen an item that my classmates identified as a condom, but it looked like a balloon to me so I figured they were mistaken) had something to do with "being gay", although I wasn't able to make all the connections, probably because I didn't know what a penis was or how it worked or what it could be used for. Anyway, what with having, for all intents and purposes, always known about AIDS, I found it really bizarre that the protagonist in this book initially didn't. After he was presented with enough information for me to determine that his lover's previous lover had AIDS, I found myself yelling at the book "What are you doing? Use a condom you fuckwit!" Then, as it later became clear, he didn't know. He had no idea that his lover's lover's illness was a deadly STD. Because he didn't know that there was such thing as a deadly STD. That was all very bizarre and surreal, but it was an important reminder that in the first few years of AIDS being spread, people didn't know! That has honestly never occurred to me before. However, the book isn't about AIDS, it's just a minor plot presence

2. Because the book is about gay relationships in the context of the British upper classes, the book sometimeshas a lovely posh party that, with different costumes and language, could be straight out of Jane Austen, then some of the characters suddenly slip into the bathroom and engage in activities that would be a bit too hardcore for an R-rated movie. This was all quite helpful in getting little old ladies on the subway to stop reading over my shoulder. Then, after they'd been duly shocked/offended/titillated, I could shift the book into a vertical position to show them that I was, in fact, reading Booker Prize-winning literature.

Linguistic thoughts of the day

1. Why is produce called produce?
2. Why would anyone spell Krakow with C's instead of K's (i.e. "Cracow"), when using K's yields the correct pronunciation in any language?
3. Words that absolutely require hyphens: re-creation, re-sign, re-sent

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kudos to Massolit Books in Krakow

Mad props to Massolit Books in Krakow for excellent customer service! I ordered a dictionary from them that turned out to be bound incorrectly, and they are shipping me a replacement free of charge. I don't even have to send the first dictionary back!

They also were able to communicate by email in excellent English, addressed me as Ms. Lastname (thus correctly identifying me as female - it's a bit tricky because, while my name is common, it's grammatically masculine in Polish), and basically resolved the issue in the best possible way, despite the fact that the cost of shipping a second book severely cuts into their profits from this sale.

I will certainly be making an effort to buy from them again, should I ever find myself in a position where I need English-language books from Poland, or more Polish reference books.

Kudos to Michaëlle Jean

Mad props to Canada's new Governor General for very publicly stating that she intends to enrol her daughter in public school! There is far too much anti-public school sentiment out there, and Her Excellency is doing a valuable service by choosing public school for her daughter.


Things I currently feel tempted to buy:

1. An iPod
2. Expensive makeup
3. A PVR or VCR or something that can record TV shows

Luckily all I have to do to stop myself from this gratuitous consumerism is check my bank account balance, which still clearly shows the effects of having bought a computer with more upgrades than strictly necessary.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Famiglia Bianchi Malbec

No, I don't know why an Argentine wine has an Italian name. At any rate, this wine doesn't really do it for me. It has kind of a tannic or otherwise musty/smokey flavour, with fruity undertones. I much prefer the opposite - fruity flavour with tannic undertones. I don't know if that's how malbec is supposed to be or if it's just this particular wine, but this one is not for me.

Things They Should Invent: a more effective way to remove blackheads

We've all seen those Bioré nose strips, where you stick them to your nose and wait a bit, then rip them off and they rip all the blackheads out. They're very effective (although not permanent) for the nose, but even the "face" versions are difficult to use on other parts of the face and body. Blackheads appear in all kinds of strange places, like the crease of the chin, or the divet under the nose, that these strips just won't get at properly.

So what they need is something along the lines of the Nair wax that forms its own strip. You just apply some kind of goop to areas that have blackheads, wait for it to harden, then peel it off all in one piece, and it will take the blackheads with it. It could come with a bottle with various types of applicator nozzles, from a tiny pen for doing the crease of your chin, to a big fan-like thing for if you want to do, say, your entire back.

Friday, August 05, 2005

An open letter to Stephen Harper

Dear Mr. Harper,

Thank you for putting the idea of tax deductions for transit passes out there for public dialogue. It's an excellent idea whose time has come.

However, it is not enough to make me even consider voting for you.

Your party has been actively working against same-sex marriage and promoting privatization of our health care system. When I read your party's platform in depth prior to the 2004 election, I remember distinctly that you would not be strengthening the social safety net in any way, and some of your policies may even have been a threat to my livelihood.

I calculated that a tax deductible transit pass would save me less money than I earn in a day. That is nowhere near enough to make me even think about reconsidering my voting priorities. In fact, I would personally pay you that amount to withdraw your candidate from my riding, if that were at all a plausible or ethical thing to do. Basically, your party goes against everything I need from a government and everything I want my federal government to stand for, and one or two hundred dollars back in my pocket isn't going to change that.

Mr. Harper, try harder next time.

Other parties, why not add this idea to your own platforms?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

How to have a family of orphans in Sims 2

I figured out how to have a family of orphans without them getting taken away by the social worker. This only works if the oldest child is at the "child" or "teen" level - if you only have babies and toddlers, you're stuck.

As soon as the last grownup in the house dies, maybe even while they are dying, have one of the children phone the nanny service. If you have a teen in the house, you can have them track the teen's schedule and only send a nanny over when the teen isn't home. If there are no teens, you have them send over a nanny "just for now." The nanny won't leave if the kids aren't proerly supervised. However, she might die or get stuck. If this happens, have them send another nanny over. Of course, if your family is just children and teens and the teen doesn't work, you don't need a nanny as long as you don't send the teen to school on a day when a child is home.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A scientific discovery

Empirical evidence gathered throughout this summer demonstrates that thunderstorms occur in Toronto if and only if I'm wearing a light-coloured shirt that will go see-through if it gets wet.

So the overall dry weather we've been experiencing this summer is due entirely to the fact that I rarely wear light colours.

Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel

This was advertised as a "macho" wine, so I bought it just to see what a macho wine tastes like, as I've never before had a wine that evoked any sense of gender.

I think they call it "macho" because it's the kind of wine that would go well with a big slab of dead something cooked over a fire. Not really my thing, but it does serve a purpose.

It also has a very slight allusion to cigars and some kind of hard-core liquor (whiskey)? At least (given that I've never had a cigar and have only had a sip of whiskey, which was enough to determine I don't like it) it alludes to the smell of sitting an old man who's had cigars and whiskey on the GO bus, caught in a traffic jam on the QEW, which is not a good thing.

Therefore, I deem this wine to be the perfect accessory to smelly things that old men do to make themselves feel manly.

The funny thing is I never would have thought of any of these descriptions if the wine hadn't advertised itself as "macho" in the first place.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Unwanted attention

I've been getting far more unwanted negative attention from men this weekend than usual. That's particularly strange, because this weekend I have been taking no care whatsoever with my physical appearance. Every time I've left the house I've been alone and doing a pressure-free errand like grocery shopping or going to the library, so I've been dressing strictly for comfort and modesty in big long skirts, old unflattering t-shirts, and rather butch sandals. I haven't been wearing any makeup and my hair is generally in a sloppy bun because of the heat. I haven't been showing even a glimpse of thigh, midriff or cleavage, and in many cases I'm probably the least attractive person in my general vincinity. This makes no sense.

Maybe it's because when I make no effort whatsoever, the loudmouth assholes can no longer see that I'm out of their league?

Why I choose not to take Pascal's wager

From a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star:

How many people even think about Pascal's wager, which says that if we try to follow a faith that believes in God (and His commandments) and find out when we die that we were correct in that faith, we will have found salvation. And if we were wrong, we lost out on a bit of "fun."

But if we do not believe in God, and if we do whatever we like or whatever feels good, and in the final judgment find out that we were wrong, where will we be?

The reason I, personally, do not try to follow a faith that believes in a god is that for me, there is no god. I spent years under the impression that to be a good person one had to be thoroughly and devoutly religious, but my attempts to be religious were all fruitless. When I prayed, there was nothing there. It wasn't just that my prayers weren't answered, it wasn't even that whatever was supposed to be listening to my prayers was pretending not to listen it was more like talking to a brick wall or a disconnected phone. There was nothing there. I felt like a great dirty hypocrite every time I prayed or set foot in a church, because I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would just be going through the motions and keeping up appearances, living a lie, which is surely a sin.

If I did choose to live by Pascal's wager and follow a faith, I would simply be living a lie. I would be nothing more than a liar and a hypocrite who just keeps up appearances in order to impress people. If it turned out that fait was correct, I would still be going to hell on judgement day because any deity worth the title of deity would be able to tell that I'd been living my life as a hypocrite, and surely wouldn't be too impressed that I'd thought I could fool an omniscient deity with a bit of genuflecting and a couple of Hail Marys.

However, I have instead chosen to put the energy that I used to use to fake piety into doing whatever I feel like, whatever feels good. What I feel like and what feels good is simply being the best possible version of myself I can be, the kind of person I've always wanted to be. The best possible outcome of this course of action is that I help a few people, make a few people happy, and leave the world a slightly better place. The worst possible outcome is that I won't have hurt anyone. So then if judgement day does come I might still end up going to hell as an atheist, but there's a slight chance that judgement transcends religion and I might go to heaven as a good person. In any case, I'm no worse off being true to myself and not putting large quantities of energy into living a lie.

I find it rather terrifying that there are people for whom "doing whatever they feel like, whatever feels good" is automatically equated with doing something bad or harmful, and the only thing stopping them from doing this is their belief in something that, despite half a lifetime of searching, simply does not exist for me.

The necessary everyday tasks of life

I can't sleep, despite the fact that it's raining, so I am going to document this.

Quite a lot of angst and strife in my childhood boils down to the fact that for my parents, eating is purely a chore. Something to get out of the way so they can get on with their day. For me it is more important than that - eating exactly the food I want is a source of joy, and being denied the opportunity to eat exactly the food I want is downright depressing. Upon further reflection, I realized that various everyday activities have different levels of importance for different people. So I'm going to write down how I feel about various everyday tasks - pleasurable? a hardship? neutral? - until I get tired and decide to go to sleep.

Eating: highly pleasurable when I can eat exactly what I feel like eating. This doesn't necessarily mean gourmet food, just what my body and my palate want. Not having access to the foods I crave over significant periods of time is very depressing. Being hungry makes me grumpy like a toddler - unfortunately it took me until about the age of 20 to realize this - and can also make me nauseous, which is rather counterproductive.

Drinking (water etc.): always pleasurable. I have a very low thirst tolerance, so a drink of cold water is always refreshing. Slight negative associations with being told to "stay hydrated", but really I'll stay hydrated by myself if left to my own devices with a drinking vessel and a source of cold water.

Going to the bathroom: always a positive experience. I use this time as a perfectly valid excuse for a mental break from whatever I'm doing, and the act of eliminating itself can be quite enjoyable when it is badly needed. This becomes a negative experience when suitable facilities are not available, but that has nothing to do with going to the bathroom itself and everything to do with icky crawly things.

Showering: a pleasurable experience, very relaxing, an excellent place to get thinking done. Negative only when unsuitable facilities are available - see above.

Brushing my teeth: neutral in most cases, a chore when I'm in a hurry or uncomfortable or exhausted

Hair removal: I think it averages out to neutral. The look and feel of having unwanted hair freshly removed is positive, but the actual maintenance work is quite the chore and I have no particular enjoyment of the process. This is such a precarious balance that I put more of a cost-benefit analysis into any decision to change my hair removal routine than most people put into taking out a loan.

Hair care: fraught with issues, but averages out to neutral.

Nail care: pleasurable by association. I've made a ritual of having a glass of wine and reading fanfic or gaming while doing my nails, so it's a perfectly valid one-hour vacation from my everyday duties.

Skin care: neutral, with small bursts of pleasure during particularly effective acne removal

Makeup: as a normal everyday activity, makeup is neutral, but if for whatever reason I don't have access to or am not permitted to apply makeup in a situation where I feel the need to do so, this becomes disproprotionately negative.

Selecting clothing: generally neutral, sometimes positive if I feel particularly pleased with what I get to wear, very occasionally negative if I feel completely displeased with what I have to wear

Shopping: neutral to negative. It's always a chore, but it can be a harmless chore if approached properly.

Laundry: quite the chore, but I have made it slightly positive by excusing myself from several other duties while I'm doing laundry

Dishes: one of my least favourite chores. I make it bearable by doing it in TV commercial breaks or while talking on the phone.

Exercising: a chore, completely negative. Not at all enjoyable. Strong negative associations. If I were permitted to be excused from one everyday real-life responsibility, it would be dealing with icky crawling things; if I were permitted to be excused from two everyday real-life responsibilities, it would be dealing with icky crawling things, and exercising. The only positive moments happen when my joints crack while I'm stretching them in yoga, but that's not at all worth the trouble.

Money management: neutral, but not something I like to discuss because it makes people cocky and smug.

Personal health care: mostly neutral, although phoning up to make appointments is somewhat of a chore just because I don't like making non-social phone calls in general.

Taking out garbage and recycling: very much a chore. I hate doing this.

Keeping up on current events: staying as informed as I, personally, want to be for my own personal needs is quite easy and pleasurable. Staying as informed as I should so that I'm qualified to participate knowledgeably in adult conversations is a bit of a chore, because I have to read articles that I'd normally just skim over. As a whole, this task tends towards pleasurable because I tend to stop when I'm no longer interested.

Commuting: in general I hate it, but I have arranged my life so that it isn't too time consuming and I can read on the way, which makes it lean very very slightly towards pleasurable.

Working: neutral overall. The fact that I have a job that's such a good fit for me is quite positive, but the fact that I have to be in the office and working at given times instead of sleeping or gaming is rather negative.

And, because I'm tired now...

Sleeping: The act of sleeping itself is always pleasurable, especially when I'm permitted all the REM sleep I need and a nice slow wake-up. But lying in bed waiting for sleep to overtake me can be slightly negative.