Saturday, September 30, 2006

Summary of Star Trek: First Contact, written by someone who obviously doesn't know Star Trek

"Half-robot Borg tries to sabotage a rocket flight."

- from the Globe and Mail TV guide

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Etiquette dilemma

I got on the subway, saw an empty seat, and sat down. This lady got on shortly after me, but there were no seats so she stood up in front of me. Then, several stops later, one of the people sitting next to me got off, so the lady standing in front of me sat down next to me. As she moved to sit down, the way her moved and hung showed me that she was pregnant - at least I think she was pregnant! I didn't notice the apparent pregnancy while she was just standing still. I felt like I should apologize to her for not offering her my seat, but there was the tricky question of what if she isn't actually pregnant? What's the proper thing to do in this situation?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Things They Should Invent: redefine "women's issues" to exclude parenting issues

A number of political issues are often grouped together under the general category of "women's issues," but many of these issues are actually parents' issues. In addition, some reproductive issues that are commonly considered women's issues also affect men who have sex with women. This causes many problems:

- childfree women, infertile/post-menopausal childless women, and women with grown children will look at the "women's issues" section of the website (or whatever medium) and come to the conclusion that women's issues aren't for them, when in fact there are one or two issues hiding in there that are for all of us.

- issues that have to do with parents and opposite-sex partners are listed under a category that tells men "This is not for you."

This means that:

- nearly all women over 50
- all men except for gay and celibate childfree men
- childfree women

are all alienated from issues that concern them, simply because of lazy labelling. I don't have census data or anything here, but that's obviously a majority of the population.

So is it a parenting issue? Call it a parenting issue. Is it a reproductive issue? Call it a reproductive issue. If there are any women's issues left, you can call them women's issues. I don't know whether or not there are any left, because all the stuff for parents told me it wasn't for me so I didn't read it in depth.

Monday, September 25, 2006

"You're just taking the easy way out"

This phrase, like the words courage and cowardice, is often misused as a commentary on virtue. People accuse others of taking the easy way out as though there's some inherent virtue in doing things the hardest way possible. Now sometimes the harder route is more virtuous and the easier route is less virtuous, but they are virtuous or not based on their own merits, not because of their inherent difficulty or lack thereof.

So, in the shower this morning, I thought of a simple rebuttal to show people who make this comment the folly of their position. It won't work for everyone, but it will work for a lot of people: "You have a car, don't you?"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Extremely small countries are cool

There are quite a few countries in the world with five-digit populations. Tuvalu has about 10,000, San Marino has about 20,000, Monaco has about 30,000, etc.

The cool thing about these countries are that if they have an official government correspondence office, they could answer every single letter the gov't receives from citizens. If they have more than one full-time person, they could probably manage to send a somewhat personalized note of condolence from the head of state to the family of every single person who dies. They could probably send a card of congratulations from the head of state to every single high-school graduate. That would be very cool.

Another poll they should do

Some people believe "If I can achieve success, anyone can," and if someone doesn't achieve success it's their own damn fault for not working hard enough or being virtuous enough.

Other people view their own success as a matter of good luck, and feel that things could have turned out very differently due to circumstances completely beyond their control.

I fall into the latter group, and this is because I know and know of a number of people who have the same or better credentials, virtue, and willingness to work hard as I do, but are less successful. (This statement holds for every measure of success I can think of, although the same people don't always count as more successful or less successful by each and every measure.) This is also because I have been in situations where I was unable to achieve a certain success due to circumstances entirely beyond my control; I have also been in situations where I was nearly unable to achieve a certain success due to cercumstances entirely beyond my control, but did end up achieving it by making use of some resource to which not everyone has access (and I had access to said resource because of good luck or a random fluke or other circumstances beyond my control.)

So I'd like to see a poll of the people who think that if you don't achieve success it's entirely your fault. Do they know anyone who has the same or better credentials, virtue, and willingness to work hard, but is less successful? Have they ever not achieved success due to circumstances entirely beyond their control? Have they ever achieved success purely because of good luck? Basically I'm wondering if they have the same range of experiences as me but are interpreting them differently, or if they came from a completely different set of experiences.

In court

In courtroom dramas, two things always happen:

1. Everyone takes an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
2. At some point, a lawyer forcefully insists that some witness answer a question with simple yes or no, with no further information.

But if you answer a question with a simple yes or no when more specific information is necessary, you're not telling the whole truth, and you're not telling nothing but the truth.

On TV, they always present this situation as the evil witness is cowed into answering with an incriminatory yes or no, and implicates the bad guy, and the good guy wins. But in real life what are you supposed to do if you're on the stand and the lawyer questioning insist that you answer in a way that would be perjury?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A trick of the light

On TV, they have what appears to be a temporary studio set up in what appears to be a hotel room. They're sitting in hotel-looking chairs interviewing people in front of what looks like a window that offers a stunning view of the urban skyline.

Problem: It's a nighttime skyline.

The lights from the studio should be reflecting off the window and showing a mirror image of what's going on in the studio, not a stunning view of the nighttime skyline. Is there any possible way to pull this off with TV studio lights, or is the window just a fake?

Do you wear purple? If not, why not?

I'm finding myself tempted to buy a purple jacket (for outerwear), but I'm hesitant. The colour looks really good on me, as deep jewel tones usually do, but I always think twice about wearing purple because so few people do wear it. Is that just because purple doesn't look good on many people, or is it an old lady colour, or is there some other reason?

The word purple looks really funny now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Barbershop bunny, free for the taking

In the shower this morning, my brain started playing a barbershop arrangement of King Herod's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar (lyrics) (YouTube). As far as Google can tell me, no one has done this IRL, and since I don't have a keyboard to help me write it out (or a barbershop quartet who can use it) I'm tossing it out here for anyone who's randomly Googling for something new to barbershop. I think it would work in straightforward close harmony, with judicious use of scat in the bassline to allude to what the tuba and piano are doing in the original.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Question for Americans

Why do y'all refer to your amendments by number only? It makes them very hard to learn and seriously hinders my Jeopardy game!

Of airplanes and dull conversation

Last night I closed my windows overnight for the first time this fall. This morning, I notice airplanes sound more noticeable than usual. I'm not particularly close to an airport or anything, but I'm quite distinctly hearing each airplane, which never happened with the windows open. I guess it's because the closed windows block out the sounds of weather and construction and sirens* and cars and people.

Also, I heard a really good quote the other day. I don't know if I've got it exactly, but here's the gist: "Talking about the nutritional value of food while eating is like talking about the anatomical composition of lips while kissing."

I tried googling it, but all I got was advice on how to kiss. Something I wish I'd known back when I was unkissed and terribly ashamed of it: when you do find yourself kissing, it will be with someone you feel safe with and can trust. You know how you can be stupid and goofy around your very best friends and it's okay? The same goes for your kissing partner. It's hard to think of it this way when you haven't been kissed yet - the idea of someone who might kiss you is very Other - but once you get close enough to someone to actually kiss them, you'll be comfortable with them. And they won't be expecting any great astounding lover with The Best Technique Ever, they'll be kissing you because you're you. If you mess up, you'll just catch each other's eye, share a smile and a giggle, then lean back in to try again, no hard feelings.

*television always portrays neighbourhoods with lots of sirens as high-crime neighbourhoods and undesireable places to live. My neighbourhood has a lot of sirens because the police and fire stations are just a block or two away, which actually makes it feel safer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fun with semantics

Two sentences whose denotations are almost exactly the same, but whose connotations sound almost exactly opposite:

1. It's not like I have anything better to do


2. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing

Today's roundup

1. Three or four years ago, when the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" first entered common parlance, my first reaction was "But the US has weapons of mass destruction!" But no one of influence was listening to what I thought, so nothing came of it. Today, Keith Knight follows that train of thought through to the logical conclusion.

2. The City of Toronto bought a dump near London, Ontario, and London politicians aren't happy. The same thing happened with Michigan - there was a lot of rhetoric from local politicans to the effect that Toronto was forcing its trash on them. But that isn't what's really happening. Toronto bought the dump with permission from whoever owned it before. It's a legitimate, completely legal business transaction conducted with all the necessary permission - not bullying or strongarming. It seems to me that the problem is that people can privately own dumps and sell them to whomever they want without authorization from local authorities.

3. Peel police allegedly assaulted some guys who took a video of police having a drinking party behind a strip mall. But why are police officers drinking behind a strip mall? They're grown adults with professional salaries - surely they can go to a bar or a private home to do their drinking! Why would behind a strip mall be desirable or preferable?

4. A Canadian Medical Association Report "recommends Canadians assume more responsibility for their own health care." No further detail is given and, as of the time of this posting, I can't find any greater detail (or the report itself) online. I would really like to know what they mean by this! I try very hard to take responsibility for my own health care but I'm thwarted at every turn! I think I have strep throat and I waited three days to make sure? The doctor can't see me to give me antibiotics for another four days! I followed medical news to find what Gardasil would be approved in Canada and was proactive in seeking it out? Can't have it because the receptionist has never heard of it! I'm female and childfree? Can't have a tubal because I'm under 35 and don't have kids! (Because I'm really good at being childfree, doy!) So how do they want me to take more responsibility when I can't even take the responsibility that I want to take???

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Worst. Child. Ever.

And I thought the kids that trapped me in the elevator were bad. This kid (and the associated parenting) is much, much worse.

Now I'm far more forgiving with children than most people. I think they should be allowed to eat whatever they want instead of whatever food their parents arbitrarily choose. I have no problem with creating an environment that boosts children's self-esteem. I don't mind if they call me by my first name. I don't mind if they get a bit noisy. And if you say anything that even hints at the thought that spanking is appropriate, you are going to get an earful from me.

But holy shit people, if your kid walks up to some quadriplegic lady and MOVES HER ARM, thus leaving her helpless, you drop everything and explain to the kid sternly WHY THAT IS A VERY BAD THING TO DO! This isn't minor, this isn't something to laugh off like when a child asks an unknowningly inappropriate question, this is your child not only violating someone's personal space, but leaving them utterly helpless! The kid should be wide-eyed and stammering for an apology!

From the news

A Globe and Mail commentator insists that Kimveer Gill is not a victim.

This happens whenever there's a big atrocious crime - someone cuts off any attempt to figure out why the perp did what he did by saying that the perp isn't a victim, the victim is.

The problem is that this attitude hinders investigation and discourse about what might lead someone to commit a crime like this. And we need to understand where this comes from - we can't just stop at "He's bad" or "He's crazy." We need to be able to look at the situation and say "Yeah, I can see why he did that" so we can take measures to prevent similar crimes in the future.

Being able to see why a perp did something doesn't mean you think it's good or justified. Can you see why someone might rob a bank? Sure - there's lots of money in there, and it belongs to a big faceless corporation. You can understand the reasoning even if you're not a bank robber yourself. Can you see why someone might strike someone else out of anger? No one who has ever been a child can honestly say they can't. But that doesn't mean you think it's acceptable to go around hitting people. And we need to understand these things. We couldn't have appropriate security in banks if we couldn't understand what would lead someone to rob a bank. We couldn't defuse tense situations if we couldn't understand what might lead someone to hit someone else.

And similarly, we need to understand what would lead someone to shoot up a school. Is it a certain kind of bullying experienced in school? Once we understand that, we can focus on training teachers to eliminate the conditions that make schools conducive to bullying. Is it a certain kind of mis-parenting? Once we understand that, we can disseminate the fact that that isn't appropriate parenting and provide parents with alternatives. But if we just write him off as a Bad Guy and use that as an excuse not to look into it in greater depth, we're doing ourselves all a disservice.

Meanwhile, one would-be head of the Toronto police union wants to give police the right to sue people who make false accusations against them.

Here's what that says to me: suppose something happens in my building and a police officer has to come to my apartment, then he decides to take advantage of the fact that we're alone in my apartment to rape me. Or suppose I'm falsely arrested for something, and the police don't much like my protestations of innocence so they decide to beat me. (There have been beatings and sexual assault cases involving the Toronto police in the past few years, and nothing has been done to give me reason to believe that it won't happen again.) What I'm hearing from this article is that if I so much as utter a word about it, if my dentist asks how all my teeth got knocked out, or my optician asks how my glasses broke, or my doctor asks why I'm suddenly requesting STD testing when I've been monogamous for my entire adult life, and I say that a police officer attacked me, the police will then sue me, take everything I have and leave me without a safety net, and garnishee my future wages so I'll have to live somewhere distant and infested in a high-crime area that will have cops coming to my building even more often and the whole thing starts over again. That's what this article says to me.

Now I can see how false accusations may be of concern to a police officer - there are certainly some good nefarious reasons why a perp might want to falsely accuse a cop - but the Toronto Police don't have enough public trust to do this. They've had a lot of scandals lately, so they're in no position to be demanding protection from us when we still feel like we need to be protected from them. I couldn't even reassure you with absolute certainty that they won't come and attack me just for blogging this.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The problems of website design in bilingual cultures

As a translator, I spend a lot of my time looking at bilingual websites, as they make for excellent parallel texts. This being Canada, we have plenty of bilingual websites, as well as bilingual packaging on all our products, so I have grown accustomed to the graphic affordances of bilingual texts.

But this can be a problem when website designers don't consider how the omnipresence of bilingual material might affect how users scan the page.

I was just looking at this page. I read about this gizmo in the paper, and wanted to see how much it costs. So I went to the page I have linked, scanned it quickly, but didn't see a price. I could see a link for the money-back guarantee and a link to the Time article, but I couldn't see any other links that might help me find the price. I clicked around the title and the graphics in vain, but there were no other links. Then, after far too long a time, I noticed the "Buy your sleeptracker today!" link on the bottom-right.

Why didn't I notice this right away? Because the layout of this page suggested that it might be bilingual. There are two relatively equal-sized columns of text separated by a wide space, and two relatively equal-sized links. This is consistent with the standard design of bilingual front pages, like this. My eye automatically went to the left-hand column, saw that it was English, read it, and saw the warranty link below. I then subconsciously assumed that the right-hand column said the same thing in French, and the link was the equivalent in French.

If the text had been all in one block instead of in columns, I would have been able to navigate the page easily. However, the two columns and two links, while possibly appropriate in a print ad, gave me the impression that it was a bilingual page so I should ignore the right-hand column.

Web designers: keep this in mind! Translation and tech writing students: you could get a text analysis exercise out of this!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Anyone out there have Zonealarm and Sympatico?

I find I'm getting way, way, way fewer Zonealarm alerts than usual. When I first set up this computer a year ago, I got so many alerts that I had to disable the little box that tells you you have an alert; most of these alerts were inbound. I happened to look at my alert log just recently, and found that I had way fewer alerts than I expected. It says it has blocked 168 intrusion attempts since I upgraded on Aug. 1. That's less than 5 a day! Since my last reboot, most the alerts have come from svchost.exe attempting to access DNS servers, which is odd because a) I didn't know that was blocked (I was under the impression svchost was important), and b) I'm still connecting just fine. I've only had two incoming alerts, both from a router URL. This is very odd and bizarre. Even when I was on resnet, behind a firewall, I still got the occasional stray alert. It makes me worry that my firewall isn't blocking what it should, but it's still passing various online firewall tests with flying colours.

Sympatico users: are you getting fewer Zonealarm alerts than usual? Is this something I should be worried about?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Thought experiment

There are people who think that making birth control available, will make people more likely to have sex. I think I have come up with a thought experiment (to borrow a term from Scott Adams) to prove why this is not true. Follow along and see if it works (note: for simplicity's sake, we are only considering birth control here, not STD protection):

The year is 2006. Consider a sexually active opposite-sex couple who does not want to get pregnant right now, so the woman goes on the pill. This makes perfect sense. The pill is one of the most effective forms of temporary birth control, it prevents the ovaries from releasing ova so there are no eggs floating around to get fertilized, so society in general will consider this a reasonable and responsible course of action. If they get pregnant, people will be surprised.

Suppose the woman isn't on the pill, and they use some kind of barrier method. That's generally not considered as responsible. The general consensus is "Yeah, I know, sometimes hormonal methods wreak havoc on some women's bodies, but really it's better to be on the pill if at all possible." If there's no good reason why the woman can't be on the pill, the general consensus is "WTF are they doing? Condoms break, you know, and the rhythm method is not at all reliable!" If they get pregnant, there will be an unspoken undertone of "Well, what did you expect?"

But let's go back in time a bit. Now the year is 1936. The pill has not been invented yet. So an opposite-sex couple who does not want to have children (it being the Great Depression and all) goes to a controversial newly-opened family-planning clinic, where they are issued the latest in birth control technology: condoms and spermicide. They use these, perhaps in combination with the rhythm method. Again, moral detractors aside, this is generally considered responsible. They do not want to have children, they can't afford to have children, so they use the very latest technology available to keep themselves from getting pregnant. They aren't on the pill, but they're still considered perfectly responsible. Why? Because the pill hasn't been invented yet. Maybe an experimental version is in a lab somewhere, but practically speaking there's no possible way for them to get their hands on it, so they are still being as responsible as possible despite the fact that they're not using it.

Now let's go forward in time. The year is 2036. The male pill has been invented, and is mainstream and widely available. So now both members of our couple are on the pill. She's on the female pill, which prevents the ovaries from releasing ova, and he's on the male pill, which prevents sperm production. This is generally considered the responsible course of action for when you don't want to have children.

Now, still in 2036, suppose the man is not on the pill for whatever reason, but the woman is. The general consensus would be something like "Yeah, I know the pill wreaks havoc on some men's bodies, but it's really better for both people to use a hormonal method if at all possible." If there's no good reason for the man to not take the pill, the general consensus will be "WTF are they doing? They'll get sperm everywhere!" And if they get pregnant with only the woman on the pill, there will be a general undertone of "Well, what did you expect?"

Our 2036 couple is generally considered irresponsible for not using the male pill, but our 2006 couple is not because the male pill is not available in 2006. Our 2006 couple is generally considered irresponsible for not using the female pill, but our 1936 couple is not because the female pill is not available in 1936.

The 1936 couple is not considered irresponsible for not holding out until they can get a female pill, and the 2006 couple is not considered irresponsible for not holding out until they can get a male pill. Overall, it is considered responsible to use the very most effective birth control available, regardless of what it is. Overall, it is considered unreasonable to expect a couple to avoid sexual contact until a better form of birth control becomes available.

You with me so far?

Okay, now let's go to a dystopia where the anti-contraception lobby has won. There are no hormonal, chemical, or barrier methods of birth control available through doctors or pharamcists. Now we have an opposite-sex couple who does not want to get pregnant. So what do they do? They go to their doctor and/or pharmacist and ask about their options, and perhaps they are informed about the rhythm and withdrawl methods. Wanting to be as responsible as possible, they use the rhythm and withdrawl methods. Because they are using the best methods available, they do not feel like they are taking any unnecessary risks, any more than we today feel that we are taking unnecessary risks by not using a male pill. They won't feel any particular need to avoid sex, any more than we feel it necessary to avoid sex because the female pill is only like 99.9% effective and the male pill is not available. However, they will still have a higher unwanted pregnancy rate than we do, just as the unwanted pregnancy rate was higher in 1936 than in 2006, and just as it will doubtless drop once the male pill becomes available. It's just like people didn't feel unsafe for not having seatbelts before seatbelts were common, or for not having cellphones before cellphones were widely available.

People feel like their behaviour is unrisky when they are using the best precautions possible. Eliminating precautions from the realm of possibility is just going to lower people's risk acceptance threshold.

Friday, September 15, 2006

On media coverage of the shootings

First, I need to correct a few comments by Rosie DiManno, then I have some thoughts of my own.

1. "...18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa, a lovely trilingual co-ed who was a treasure to her family..." The word co-ed is not appropriate here. It's almost as bad as using "schoolgirl" for Paul Bernardo's victims. Co-ed is never used as a noun in the 21st century outside of porn ads, so it is not an appropriate word for memorializing the deceased. Note to Rosie Dimanno: next time you try to speak positively of the deceased, think about whether the deceased would actually want to be referred to by the particular word you choose. Poor word choices like this don't make me think better of the deceased, they draw me out of the mood you're trying to create and make me pull out my metaphorical blue pencil and say "WTF did she use that word for?"

2. "He may, as neighbours in Laval told reporters, have become increasingly introverted in recent months, disappearing further into his self-imposed alienation." Introversion is not a problem, not a pathology. It is simply a function of the path by which electrical pulses travel through one's brain and the neurotransmitters that they use. It isn't something that can change or develop unless the person experiences major brain trauma of some sort. I think you mean reclusive. Yes, introverts are often reclusive, but the two words are not interchangeable. Pregnant people are often hungry, but you don't use the word pregnant to mean hungry.

3. "Apparently, a failure with girls/women; hadn't had a date in a month" In what world is a month a long time not to have a date? He wasn't in a relationship at the time, so all that means is that in the past month he hadn't met anyone new with whom there was mutual interest in going out and doing something, and arranged to go out and do something. I'm sure that statement applies to most people in the world.


Now my own thoughts:

Overall, I'm not happy with the way this story is being covered. I think they're putting way too much emphasis on the fact that the killer was dark and reclusive and didn't have his shit together, while the victim was blonde and attractive and popular and had a bright future. I'm worried that this might have negative fallout for youth who aren't about to shoot anyone up, but just happen to be dark, shy, unpopular, and don't have their shit together. Not everyone is beautiful and makes friends easily, not everyone can smoothly navigate the waters of adolescent life, and it's no sin to not be able to do these things. However, I'm worried that in light of this black & white coverage, outcasts (or even just introverts who are drained after six hours in a room with 30 other people and need time alone to decompress) are going to end up taking even more shit at the hands of the cool kids, or at the hands of adults who brightly chirp "But these are the best years of your life! Join a club! Play a sport! Volunteer!" as though it's that simple.

It also makes me wonder what would happen if I were the victim of some crime that received heavy media coverage. Overall, I'm more like Kimveer than like Anastasia. Apart from the fact that she was the victim, I cannot identify with Anastasia at all. Apart from the fact that he liked guns and shooting people, I can identify completely with Kimveer. My life does differ from Kimveer's in a few ways, and most people would consider these differences to be improvements, but all of these differences exist only because of a few strokes of good luck, not because of any virtue on my part. So what would happen if I were the victim? Would I receive less media coverage because I'm not cute and perky? Would I receive less sympathetic media coverage because I'm quiet and geeky? Would they make value judgements about me based on the fact that I sometimes blog about banal things, sometimes express frustration, and sometimes make declarative statements giving my opinion on current events? Or would they take all the elements that they are implying are a sign of Kimveer's madness and somehow reword them and represent them as good thing because I'm the victim?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Question's arising from today's paper

In ascending order of importance:

1. Does the first panel here reflect reality? I cannot imagine why the bank would care whether she lives in her house or not.

One of Canada's latest lottery jackpot winners tiptoed into an abandoned Taliban stronghold yesterday to blow up a booby trap insurgents left behind.

Sgt. Neil Coates may be $625,000 richer thanks to a Super 7 lottery win, but he can't buy his way out of the army or the duty he feels to fallen friends and the comrades who remain.

"My first reaction was, `Get the hell out of here,'" Coates, 44, told The Canadian Press at the front lines of the NATO operation to clear insurgents from this Taliban stronghold.

"But I talked to my wife about it, and this is what I came here to do, I trained a whole year for this. I owe it to these guys to see it through."

Is that an option? Can you just quit? I was always under the impression that the military owns you for a certain period of time. If you can just quit, why don't more people just quit? (I realize not everyone would just quit at the first sign of war, but you'd think enough would that it would be mentioned in passing in the media either that a lot of soldiers are quitting, or that a surprisingly low number of soldiers are quitting.)

3. The guy behind the Dawson College shootings was 25 years old. Dawson College is a CEGEP, which means really more of senior high school - students are typically 16-19 years old. So why did he pick a CEGEP? I see several options, most of which don't make sense.

a) He was bullied when he was a student there. But this doesn't make sense, because he would have been there years ago. The current students are not his tormentors. Besides, as a formerly-bullied 25-year-old myself, I can vouch for the fact that it wouldn't matter that much any more. It would still matter, yes, he would still be affected by it, but it would be far enough in the past that he wouldn't feel the need to take his gun and wreak vengance. In fact, he'd be more likely to just avoid the place all together.

b) He is currently a student there (perhaps he's a former drop-out?) and is bullied. But again, this doesn't entirely make sense because of his age. He's significantly older than the current students, so he'd more likely just disregard them as irrelevant. Again, speaking as a 25-year-old who was recently in a frosh undergrad class, and with full knowledge of how cruel bullies can be, I cannot imagine his classmates' mockery mattering that much to him. He would have his own life and his own social circle, and while I could see him being very frustrated at this nonsense he has to put up with, I can't see it being enough to drive him to taking out his gun. At 25, he'd be able to see this as a temporary detour and his classmates' behaviour as irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

c) He is not a student there, but he does have a grudge against some people who happen to be students there. Again, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because he wouldn't know them from school, he'd know them in some other circle, and it would be more likely for him to decide to take them out in whatever context he usually sees them, rather than specifically going somewhere he doesn't belong.

d) He has nothing to do with the school. Which just doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm sorry, Ma'am, we're going to have to confiscate this manuscript

Apparently J.K. Rowling was worried that they wouldn't let her take her manuscript onto an airplane during a heightened security alert. It isn't clear from the story whether this was just her own worries, or whether she actually had to convince airport security to let her take her manuscript with her. But if the latter is true, I wonder if she name-drops herself right away, or tries to get through anonymously first? I can see both pros and cons to saying "I'm J.K. Rowling and this is part of the manuscript for the next Harry Potter book."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Picture a perfect dive.

The diver's body plunges into the water, then arches smoothly back up to the surface. The underwater portion of the dive is U-shaped.

I have dived many times in my life. Yes, I know I haven't been swimming in ages, but I have dived at every given opportunity.

I don't think I've ever consciously come back up to the surface. It just happened automatically. In fact, I don't think I know how to get back up to the surface. So far in my life it has always happened, but I can't explain or visualize or imagine how it's done. That's rather scary.

Why I won't take my bottles to the Beer Store

So they want to put a deposit on bottles, and have us return them to the Beer Store for a refund.

Not gonna happen.

Why? Because the Beer Store is significantly out of my way. I never go to the Beer Store (the LCBO meets all my beer needs) so I would have to make a special trip there - by bus - for the sole purpose of getting rid of my bottles. Now my exurban readers are sitting there going "So what?" To put this in perspective, I have had to take a bus (as opposed to a subway or streetcar) only three times in the 3.5 years I've lived in this neighbourhood. Why is the bus a problem? I can't read on the bus, so it's lost time. Why don't I do something else on the way? Because the only amenities near my closest Beer Store are duplicates of amenities I have here in my immediate neighbourhood, as well as in the neighbourhood where I work. So essentially they're asking me to take on a new errand that will be the most inconvenient of all my errands, and will probably take half an hour of my time round-trip, for the sole purpose of saving 40 cents per bottle. If I didn't have a Metropass, I'd be losing money on the transaction!

My sense of social responsibility is strong enough to make me put my bottles into the recycle dumpsters behind my building rather than down the garbage chute (which is more convenient). My sense of social responsibility would be enough to make me take my bottles back to the LCBO where I bought them, even though that's rather inconvenient too since I usually shop on my way home from work. If homeless people or people fundraising started collecting bottles so they could redeem them themselves, my sense of social responsibility would be enough to make me give the bottles to the right people or leave them somewhere where they could find them. But my sense of social responsibility is not enough to get me to spend half an hour on a bus just to get rid of a couple of bottles and get a few cents back. You want my bottles? Let me return them where I bought them. Get a machine to take them and give me a refund, and place it in the grocery store. Ask me to separate them from the other recycles, or sort them by colour. But going way out of my way by bus? Not gonna happen.

everything's fine

For those who were wondering, their plane landed as scheduled so everything appears to be in order.

For those who weren't wondering, move along, nothing to see here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A poll I'd like to see

I'd like to see someone do a nice, broad-reaching, fully professional poll of a large sample of people. First, take full demographic information from each pollee. Then as them the following question:

When conducting unremarkable everyday business transactions, do you want to be treated a) like you're more important than all the other customers, or b) like you're just as important as all the other customers?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Where Were You When

For as far back as I can remember, grownups have been asking each other "Where were you when JFK was shot?" (Yes, even here in Canada) and then grousing that Kids Today just don't understand the momentous emotional significance of that event. Which is true - I simply cannot process an event that happened 17 years before my birth through emotional channels. So I always felt a wee bit miffed that nothing important enough had happened for me to say Where I Was When.

When Princess Diana was killed, I used that for a while. When it happened, I consciously made a point of remembering Where I Was so I could participate in the discourse with all the grownups when it came up. I was at my parents', making myself a cup of hot chocolate before bed (Yes, I know it was August, no I don't know why I wanted hot chocolate in August), and I wandered into the family room to watch a bit of TV while I drank it, and found my mother watching the breaking news on TV. I took that and locked it away. I wasn't nearly as emotionally affected by the event as many people, but I finally knew Where I Was When something happened.

Of course, I had no way of knowing that 9/11 would come along in a few short years and be the definitive Where Were You When. I was in my res room, which was part of a suite that I shared with H. and R., two education students. It had a semi-private bathroom, but it also had far more phobia triggers than were healthy. I had woken up at 9:30 (and was feeling very virtuous for having done so), when the DJ on JAZZ-FM mentioned in passing that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I pictureda stray Cessna and thought "Oh, this might be an interesting story, I'll have to watch for it in the news tomorrow." Since the DJ then went back to playing music (I still don't know if he didn't know the magnitude of the story, or if he had no way of running a news feed since it was a non-commercial music station), I filed it away in the back of my mind, had a shower, and proceeded to French class. French class went normally (I don't know whether no one knew or whether those who knew were making a deliberate attempt to behave normally). When class let out, I went to the cafeteria for some pizza, only to be faced with a bunch of TVs all lined up, Peter Mansbridge listing airline flight numbers. It was then, at about 2:30pm, that I grasped the full magnitude of the disaster, having been filled in in Spanglish by the Hispanic girl next to me who couldn't quite summon up all her English in the excitement.

But I don't think it's that literal Where Where You When that's really important, so let's look at it another way:

When Princess Diana was killed, I was 16 years old, about to go into Grade 12. I had probably seen mi cielito in the now-defunct online community we met in, but I doubt we'd actually talked to each other yet and I had no inkling that it might develop into a romance. I was still using text-only Freenet access to go online because it was the cheapest. Of the people whom I consider my friends today, I hadn't met most of them, and those I had met I had no idea that our friendship might last into adulthood rather than being a passing high school friendship of convenience. It hadn't yet occurred to me to study translation (I would be exposed to the idea in a few short weeks.) It had never crossed my mind that I might live in Toronto - I always figured that's what people with an inflated sense of glamour did and I had no idea that it might be practical. If you'd told me about the awesome neighbourhood I live in now, I would have been all "Young and Egg? What?" If you'd told me that I have a tiny high-rise apartment that's NOT infested, I would have been shocked that there was such thing. Shameful as it is for me to admit today, if you'd told me that the majority of men I deal with on a daily basis would be gay, I'd wonder where my future self had gone wrong. Basically, a description of my life today would have planted some intriguing ideas into my head, but I wasn't yet in a position to connect the dots from where I was then to where I am now. It was a completely different life. Where was I? In a completely different place, both literally and metaphorically.

On 9/11, I was 20 years old, just beginning 3rd year university. I was studying translation, living in Toronto, I had the same social circle I do today (with the exception of a few co-workers), I was familiar with my current neighbourhood, I had snapped out of the homophobia that I'd grown up in and was campaigning for the legalization of same-sex marriage, I had high-speed internet (for the first time). Even the minor trappings are similar: The t-shirt I wore to sleep last night might have been the same one I wore to sleep the night of Sept. 10, 2001. The underwear I'm wearing right now I bought shortly before 9/11. Same with the machine that made the coffee I'm sipping as I write this. Basically on 9/11 I could see how the next five years might make my life into what it is now. It was one of many possible outcomes, true, but I could easily see it working out like this. It was the same life. Where was I? In a very similar place. Not exactly the same place, but just a couple of (literal and metaphorical) blocks away. And people who are older than me may well be able to say that they were in exactly the same metaphorical, and maybe even literal, place as they are today.

I think this is why I'm not comfortable with 9/11 being the subject of TV and movies, or with people making money off of the story. It's still reality. We look back on Where We Were on 9/11, and we see our current selves a few years ago. It hasn't yet become history because most of us are in the same place, so it isn't quite appropriate to tell it as a fictionalized story or a historical documentary. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to hold off until such a time was we look back on Where We Were When and see our former selves.

"Don't let it rule your life"

Every time we make a decision, there are a number of factors that we take into account. There is always going to be one factor that is the strongest, just because something has to be the strongest.

Whenever I make a decision and I go in the direction that the strongest factor is pushing me, someone somewhere always tells me "You shouldn't let it rule your life," "it" being the strongest factor.

The more I think about it, the more that is a bizarre thing to say.

The Hearing Aid Sketch

An old Monty Python sketch I'd forgotten about until just now. (It starts at 1:10) It made me laugh hysterically the first couple of times, but it doesn't stand up to repeat viewings as well as some of their other material. But if you haven't see the Fliegender Zirkus episodes yet, it's worth a look.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Performance art idea, free for the taking

Get a public space that has some sort of sound/PA system. Plant an appropriate number of "agents" (if I may borrow Improv Everywhere terminology) evenly distributed around that space, and have them go about their business, while wearing a small, unobtrusive mike that's attached to the PA system. There should be enough agents that the majority of members of the public can see one agent, but not two. On an unseen cue, all the agents break into song. The song should be something that most people know and that can be reasonably sung a cappella and in harmony by a large group of people. A round of Row, Row, Row Your Boat would do the job, although I'd prefer something cooler. The agents' singing will be picked up by the mikes, mixed together, and played over the speakers for everyone to hear. However, they agents' body language should give them appearance that they're going about their daily business (as opposed to performing in a grand musical production) and that their singing is incidental, like how one might whistle to oneself in an unguarded moment.

The effect for the average member of the public is that they hear a cappella harmony singing over the speaker, and they see (initially) one person, singing mindlessly to themselves along with the music on the speaker as they go about their business.

The goal: see how many members of the public start singing along.

Why I won't watch TV or movies about 9/11

I don't think fictionalized stories or documentaries about 9/11 belong on TV or in movies just yet. Why? Because, except for the people who were there in person, we all watched it live on TV as it was happening, and we all remember it distinctly. We don't need images edited by someone else to manipulate our take on the issue because we all experienced it our own way through images. It's recent enough that we remember the events, the images, our reactions all clearly, so we don't need to sit down with some popcorn and watch someone else's version like it's a movie.

Research on the story behind 9/11, it's background and causes? Perfectly appropriate. Individual stories of victims and survivors? Perfecctly appropriate. Incorporating the fact of 9/11 into contemporary fiction? Perfectly appropriate. Just not in a visual medium, not yet. Give us a book or an article or a website, present the story in text, and let us fill in the blanks with our own images and memories. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm not yet ready to let my own memories of the biggest historical event in my life so far be tainted by a director's vision and actors' faces.

Grammar Nazi

Randy Milholland's comments on the phrase "grammar nazi" (Note: two content warnings for this link can be found at the bottom of this entry***) have me thinking about the phrase's origins. I'm wondering if people independently decided to stick the word nazi on various things, or if the phrase originated from Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. Personally, it never occurred to me before the Soup Nazi concept had entered popular culture, but I was 14 when Soup Nazi first aired so my verbal repertoire wasn't quite complete. The phrase's presence in Seinfeld gave me the impression that it wasn't entirely unacceptable, although I have always tried to use judgement about whether or not to use it in a specific context and I'm not going to be a dick and insist that it's unoffensive to someone who does find it offensive. But at any rate, when I do use it, I'm not referring directly to nazis, I'm making a sort of pop-culture reference to Seinfeld. I wonder if this is the same for everyone who uses the phrase, or if older people are actually referring to nazis?

***Warning 1: the kid's language can get offensive, although there's minimal (but not zero) offence in this strip. In the strip as a whole he is not intended to be a sympathetic character and his language is not presented as appropriate, although you can't glean this from this one strip. I don't much like this language, but he's the only character who's in school, so the author had to use him to make this point, and had to keep his character consistent.

Warning 2: This specific strip is clean and the ads I see right this moment are clean, but SP has been known to have ads that are borderline-NSFW. Not X-rated or anything, but not something I'd like my boss to walk by and see on my screen.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another thought I wish I'd been able to articulate 10 years ago

There's no real point or interest or practical application to this post, I just thought of another one of those things that I wish I'd been able to articulate 10 years ago, so I'm writing it down before I forget.

I had a lot of pressure when I was a teenager to go to science or engineering or computers, because it was fashionable at the time to "encourage" women to go into those fields. However, at 16 I came to the realization that I am very well-suited to translation. This led to a redoubled effort on the part of certain parties to convince me that yes, I really could be an engineer. Their primary supporting argument was that I was good at math/science/computers.

The point is not whether or not I was good at math/science/computers. My marks were certainly respectable - with the exception of OAC chemistry (my lowest OAC mark (of 12) at like 76%) I got in the 80s without significant effort and in the 90s if I put some work into it.

No, the main point was that I was (and may still be) exceptionally good at languages.

In my maths and sciences, I was in the top 15 in the school (population 800ish over 5 grades), maybe in the top 10, and there was tight competition for the top spots. But in languages, I was consistently, every year, the top student. There was no jockeying for the position, no heated competition with my fellow langlings. I walked in, did my work, did the mandated amount of homework (but made no exceptional effort), and walked out at the top of my class.

I had this exceptional talent, I'd found something relevant to it that I wanted to study, and translation struck me as "Yes! I could do that!" as no other career path had before. (Every other career path I'd considered, I would have had to blindly trust that my education would make me able to do it. Translation I just knew I could do it, and it turned out that I was right.) I wasn't lacking any confidence in my abilities in male-dominated subjects, I had just pragmatically realized that I was better in other subjects, which happened to be female-dominated. I didn't need to be reassured that I was good enough at the male-dominated subjects, I already knew that I was good enough. But I also knew that I was far, far, far, better than "good enough" in languages.

Now that I've gloated enough about my nascent adolescent langling skills, so let's fast-forward a bit and see what happens to the top student in high school.

In university, I made great effort in the classes that deserved it, and slacked off in the classes that didn't. I ended up being second in my small (under 20 people) class of translation students. Perhaps, with more effort in the classes I slacked off in, I could have beaten out the guy who came in first, perhaps not, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather lose out to. At any rate, we both came out with the same job offer, but only the two of us got that specific job offer. As of graduation day, we were the only two in the class with jobs in the field. So the top student in high school becomes, from one perspective, the #2 student in university, but, from another perspective, the lowest-ranked student to still be recruited right out of university. Whoever was #3 was not offered a job.

Now, with that job and a few years' experience, I am generally holding my own among my co-workers, all of whom have more experience than me (their "more experience" ranging from a year more to a lifetime more). I am in no way exceptional, it's quite possible that I might be the worst in the office (which would only be fair, since I am the newest and the youngest), but I am generally competent, doing what's expected of me, producing adequate work. So #1 in high school is downgraded to "adequate and competent, but unexceptional, and with maybe one or two areas for improvement" in the workplace.

This makes me wonder what would have happened if I had gone into math/science/engineering, like I was being pressured to. Instead of being #1 going in, I was maybe #12. So how much footing would I have lost through university? How much additional work would I have had to put in to get by? Would my internships have resulted in an employer who wanted to hire me, or an employer who wanted to avoid me? Would I even have qualified for internships at all? Did the people, especially the teachers, who were pressuring me to choose a male-dominated career path even think of this?

Bad telemarketing

We all know that voicemail spam is trying harder and harder to sound like a real message. Today I got one that started with "Oh, um, hi...I got your number from a friend of yours..." and went on to tell me about a dating service.

Now, if I had fallen for their little conceit and believed for a moment that this was a real phone call from someone who had gotten my number from a friend of mine, my friends would have hell to pay! After all, I would be unspeakably offended that one of my friends would presume to set me up with a dating service when they know full well that I'm in love with mi cielito!

So either the telemarketer distributed this message knowing full well that people wouldn't actually fall for the conceit, or they think people would fall for the conceit but don't care if people outside their target audience get pissed off at their friends for something the friends didn't actually do.

Here I sit in the land of plenty crying about my own virginity

Virginity is a weird concept. I find it utterly bizarre that the concept exists. Essentially, the state of not having gotten around to doing something gets its own word. Usually, a concept only gets its own word when it means deliberate abstention - and we already have a word for deliberately abstaining from sex: chastity. If you look at the range of meaning that is encompassed by "virginity" but outside the range "chastity," it is populated mostly by people who haven't had an appropriate opportunity yet - they haven't been able to get a suitable partner into a suitable situation.

I don't think there's any other concept like this in the English language. Whenever the absence of an action gets a label, it's because of a deliberate decision. I don't think there are any other labels that mean "I haven't had a chance yet."

If you don't drink as a matter of principle, you're a teetotaller. If you have nothing against drinking but it's just that no one has offered you any wine yet, there's no label for that.

If you don't eat meat, you're vegetarian. If you just don't have access to meat...well, you're probably poor or sheltered, but those concepts have nothing to do with meat per se.

If you deliberately choose to remain faithful to one partner, you're monogamous. If you have no particular loyalty to your lover but no other opportunities have come along, there's no word for that.

If you don't eat pork because you're Jewish, you're Kosher. If you don't have any pork, you don't have any pork.

If you've never ballroom danced or been to Venice or tried caviar, you don't get a special word for that. But if you've never had sex, you're a virgin. That's very odd.

I wonder how it would affect our society if virginity wasn't its own concept?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

On not going back

This is my fourth year of not going back to school, but it's the first time I've been actively glad that I'm not going back to school. Previous years I felt a bit lost at not having a new schedule and new books and a fresh start, but this year I'm just glad. I don't have to be nervous, I don't have to fret about whether I'll have any friends in my classes, I don't have to worry about what to wear. I just have to deal with the same co-workers (who are awesome, by the way), same clients, same work, same schedule. No presssure, just ordinary everyday life (which, conveniently, happens to be perfectly respectable and allow me to support myself.)

In other news, here's a yellow puppy with floppy ears.

St00pid alarm clock

Last night, my first novel came to me in a dream. I've never before seriously considered writing a novel, but it all came to me last night. There were these two characters, based loosely on two people I once knew (not too well, but I shared a classroom with each of them at different times), and they had to make a life together due to extenuating circumstances. Sounds like your standard odd couple story, and maybe it is. But what was exceptional (for me) is that I knew everything about these characters. All the fussy little things that authors always know and I never do. I knew their histories and family backgrounds, what they ate for breakfast, their pet peeves, their respective feelings about the situation they were placed in and their respective (and sometimes incompatible) coping mechanisms. I knew everything about these characters! This has never happened before!

Then my alarm went off and woke me up, and I found myself unable to remember my characters, only able to remember the real-life people on whom they were based.

St00pid mornings!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Things They Should Invent: bra-length camisole

Currently, it is socially and sartorially acceptable to wear an exposed camisole under a low-necked top. (Future generations, or even I myself in five or ten years, may laugh at this, but it is what we have to work with at the moment.) If the top of the camisole shows, even if it is a wee bit lacy in an aesthetic allusion to lingerie, the area under the camisole is still considered to be "covered" for modesty purposes.

However, one disadvantage to camisoles is they are long - they cover the entire torso. This can be problematic if, due to environmental or aesthetic considerations, the wearer simply doesn't want two layers.

If you don't want two layers, you'd think a bra would serve the purpose of providing additional coverage, but for reasons that are inarticulable yet unanimously agreed-upon, exposed bra cups are trashy and/or slutty.

So what we need is a garment that looks like a camisole, perhaps by not having two distinct cups, but only goes as far down as the bra elastic. Perhaps it could even fulfill a support function, so the wearer doesn't have to wear a bra AND a demi-cami. I have seen the odd bra like that, but we really do need more that are designed in a way that is acceptable to expose

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Am I supposed to meddle with homeless people? If so, how?

Walking home from the grocery store today, I saw a (presumably) homeless guy lying on the sidewalk. This was unusual because it's raining, and he was lying in a completely unsheltered area, despite the fact that there's a great big overhang on the building across the street. He was moving enough that I could tell he was alive and didn't appear to have any physical injuries, but clearly something was wrong - if he'd been in his right mind, he'd at least be across the street under the overhang.

What I'm not clear on is what I'm supposed to do. I wasn't going to approach him directly myself, because I'm a weak young woman walking around by myself (and there were fewer people in the vincinity than usual because it's raining) and he's a big, strong-looking man who's clearly not in his right mind. If he had been a clean-cut man in an Armani suit exhibiting the same behaviour, I would not have approached him directly either (although, I'll admit, I might be more likely to call 911.)

But is there someone I should call? I don't think it was a 911 emergency because he was alive and conscious and uninjured, he was just lying on the sidewalk in the rain. I don't think it was a police issue, because he wasn't doing anything illegal or threatening anyone, he was just lying on the sidewalk in the rain. I know there's a number you're supposed to call when you find homeless people during a cold alert, but is there someone you're supposed to call when you find a homeless person behaving unusually by area homeless standards during a non-emergency situation?

If he had been lying under an overhang or in tunnel, I would have just left him to his nap. If he had been lying on the sidewalk out in the open during more pleasant weather, I would have thought "Huh, that's unusual," but left him to his own devices once it was clear that he did not require medical attention. If I had found him there at night, I might have assumed that he was just sleeping for the night. But flat on his back, midafternoon, raining and not under an overhang, all makes me think there was something wrong. Thing is, I have no idea what I was supposed to do about it...

Being a grownup

I found this story while googling for something unrelated.

The first part (until it gets into knitting) is presented by the author as a story of why she hates being a grownup. However, for me, that story epitomizes why I love being a grownup. To wit:

- I never have to go camping! At all! Ever!
- I don't have to go on long ridiculous bike rides! I can take a train or a cab or stay home instead!
- If I do decide to go on a long ridiculous bike ride, I can stop the moment I get tired rather than having to stick to someone else's schedule.
- If my plans suddenly become too unpleasant due to rain or scary cobweb-like phenomena, I can call a cab and tell them to take me to the nearest hotel rather than being completely dependent on someone else who has all the money and therefore gets to make all the decisions.
- My parents are no longer operating under the assumption that I'm living in luxury or comfort just because I'm not doing the more difficult or unpleasant chores of everyday life that I couldn't do anyway because I'm just a kid. Or if they are thinking this way, they have the good sense to keep it to themselves in light of the fact that I am working and paying all my own bills and maintaining my own household.

Today it is raining, so I slept a ridiculously long time this morning and enjoyed quite a few sexy dreams. The I woke up, had a nice long shower in which I shampooed and conditioned and soaped and moisturized and exfoliated using the army of bottles that I get to keep around the edge of the bathtub at all times, and put on my bathrobe and made a cup of coffee, which I'm sipping on now as I type this.

If I were a kid today, I would have had to get up early to be dragged along on my parents' shopping expedition. I would have spent the morning fighting off carsickness and my sister, then standing around bored in stores that don't sell anything interesting and I wouldn't get to buy anything even if they did. Then when I got home I'd have time to do my chores and homework, but not to relax or enjoy a computer game or a TV show (or, if I did have time, someone else would more than likely be using the computer or the TV.)

Essentially, the joy of being a grownup is that your life doesn't just get arbitrarily hijacked whenever your parents get the idea of doing something.