Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dark vs. Right?

In my post below, I mentioned the Darkness and the Demons. These are my names for complex emotions, not literal things I actually see (and completely different from what Dexter experiences). I find people either immediately identify with this and no further explanation is necessary, or they have no idea what I'm talking about and think perhaps I need some drugs (or have been taking some drugs).

The most right-wing person I know personally cannot identify with the Darkness. When presented with the Darkness depicted visually in the arts (Munch, Burton, Gorey), they say they cannot imagine how anyone could possibly ever think of such things.

This leads me to wonder if there's a correlation between a person's politics and whether they experience the Darkness. I haven't done any investigation into this at all, but it does occur to me that it would be far easier to be right-wing if you knew nothing of the Darkness.

My new year's resolution

When the darkness descends or the demons come out to play, I will not even try to work through it. Instead I will immediately reach for food, wine, music and comedy to get my mood back up, then regroup and try again. Virtuous though it may feel, ploughing through the darkness is never as efficient as preserving my energy until the light comes back, and I'm a better person when I've been laughing than when I've been crying.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

How to get me to use biodegradeable garbage bags

Mr. Hartmann said Toronto should simply require biodegradable bags instead of purchasing more costly hydropulpers to remove plastic. He said Toronto residents would be willing to convert to biodegradable bags if they knew it would help the environment.

Come on, does anyone not already know it helps the environment?

I've been through this before, but I'll say it again: what they really need to do is have all stores bag people's purchases in biodegradeable plastic bags instead of the regular kind. Then we will automatically have biodegradeable bags on hand to put our garbage and organics in.

Why not buy biodegradeable bags? First of all, I currently get bags for free with my purchases - buying them is additional expense and inconvenience. Secondly, they aren't readily available within my normal travels, and like hell I'm going to make a separate trip just for garbage bags.

Why not use reuseable shopping bags? Because then I'd have to plan my grocery shopping (which introduces a completely new chore to my routine) and carry big shopping bags around all day (which doubles the number of things I'm carrying - normally I just have a purse) or go home after work, pick up the bags, and go back to the grocery store (which nearly doubles my commute).

It's a completely different story for car people - they can put the reuseable bags in their trunks, and since they travel so widely normally they tend not to consider an extra stop an inconvenience. But for those of us who choose to incur greater expenses and sacrifice space and privacy for the massive convenience of living without a car and within walking distance of most amenities, having to carry extra things and buy extra things is a significant inconvenience. For a car person, it may only be a 5% inconvenience. For me, it's like a 25% inconvenience.

Having stores bag my purchases in biodegradeable bags will ensure that I never put another plastic bag down the garbage chute and that every garbage bag I use is biodegradeable. Anything else is very unlikely to work on me.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Things They Should Research: Does the morphology of numbers in different languages affect those cultures' perceptions of adolescence?

Q: Which ages are considered "teenagers"?
A: 13-19
Q: Why?
A: Because those are the numbers that have "teen" in them.

This has nothing to do with adolescent development, does it? It's just because that's how the numbers go. But the numbers don't do the same thing in every language. Here are the numbers 10-20 inclusive in a few languages. "Teens" (i.e. morphemes deriving from 10) are bolded.

English: ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty

French: dix, onze, douze, treize, quatorze, quinze, seize, dix-sept, dix-huit, dix-neuf, vingt

German: zehn, elf, zwölf, dreizehn, vierzehn, fünfzehn, sechzehn, siebzehn, achtzehn, neunzehn, zwanzig

Spanish: diez, once, doce, trece, catorce, quince, dieciséis, diecisiete, dieciocho, diecinueve, veinte

Polish: dziesięć, jedenaście, dwanaście, trzynaście, czternaście, piętnaście, szesnaście, siedemnaście, osiemnaście, dziewiętnaście, dwadzieścia (the numbers 11-19 all formulate the same, but it isn't a derivative of 10 as far as I can tell)

Russian: Десять, Одиннадцать, Двенадцать, Тринадцать, Четырнадцать, Пятнадцать, Шестнадцать, Семнадцать, Восемнадцать, Девятнадцать, Двадцать (text copy-pasted from the first appropriate website because I can't convince my keyboard to do cyrillic. Again, 11-19 all formulate the same, but it isn't a derivative of 10)

Portugese: dez, onze, doze, treze, catorze, quinze, dezasseis, dezassete, dezoito, dezanove, vinte (thank you Poodle)

Afrikaans: tien, elf, twaalf, dertien, veertien, vyftien, sestien, sewentien, agtien, neëntien, twintig(thank you Poodle)

Italian: Dieci, Undici, Dodici, Tredici, Quattordici, Quindici, Sedici, Diciassette, Diciotto, Diciannove, Venti (via Google translate)

Dutch: Tien, Elf, Twaalf, Dertien, Veertien, Vijftien, Zestien, Zeventien, Achttien, Negentien, Twintig (via Google translate)

Greek: δεκα, εντεκα, δωδεκα, δεκατρεις, δεκατεσσερα, δεκαπεντε, δεκαεξι, δεκαεπτα, δεκαοκτω, δεκαεννεα, εικοσι (via Google translate - I can't actually read Greek so I'm just identifying patterns visually)

If you have access to any other languages, please post in the comments! Google Translate also does Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, but I can't read those well enough to draw any conclusions - if you can, your contributions would be most welcome. (I know I should be using Google Translate and normally I don't but this is one of the most straightforward translations possible with no negative consequences of getting it wrong.)

Anyway, given that the change in number formulation can occur anywhere from 11 to 17 depending on the language, I'm wondering if this affects how various cultures perceive adolescence. Anyone in the market for a thesis project?

Etiquette puzzle

I'm in a conversation with two other people, A and B. A asks B a question. A and B have every reason to believe that B is the most qualified person to answer the question. However, I know at least as much as B, if not more, and have every reason to believe that I can explain it better than B.* Should I chime in, "Oh, I've translated about that! Here's how it works!"? Should I wait for an opening and then put in my two cents, if I have anything to add on top of what B says? Should I passive-aggressively ask B questions to lead them to providing the information that A needs? Or should I just shut up and let B be the expert?

*Really, this isn't ego. Something about how I learn things when translating about them seems to make me far better able to explain them to outsiders than insiders can. In other cases, I've experienced something firsthand and studied it academically, when B has done only one or the other.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

So what does a petition have to do to get into the news?

I've seen several mentions in the news of the fact that a facebook group opposing proposed changes to Canada's copyright law got something like 30,000 members in only a few days.

But the "stop being a dickhead about climate change" (traduction libre) petition got over 100,000 signatures in three or four days, and I haven't seen that in the news anywhere.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sesame Street Old School!

Recently I've been watching Sesame Street Old School, old Sesame Street from the early 70s, which apparently "Is intended for grown-ups and may not suit the needs of today's pre-schooler."

So obviously I had to watch it to see what was apparently so wrong with it!

I can see a few things that wouldn't fly today. Gordon (who's a teacher - I'd forgotten that) takes it upon himself to walk a little girl who's new to the neighbourhood home from school and introduce her to everyone. Susan invites this little girl she's just met (and many other children over the course of the show) to come over for milk and cookies. And speaking of milk, they seemed really enthusiastic about milk in the first episode. There was like milk propoganda! (Seriously, five minutes on milk, on Sesame Street?) And at one point Luis decides to go out for a coffee break and leaves a small child at the Fix-It Shop with instructions to answer the phone and tell whoever calls that he'll be back in five minutes. Then he says "And if they don't speak English..." and gives her instructions on what to say in Spanish - and I think she didn't even speak Spanish!

It was fun to see early incarnations of the muppets we all know and love. Oscar the Grouch was ORANGE! Big Bird was kind of dopey and stupid at first, then he grew some more feathers on the top of his head and became more childlike than dopey. In Mr. Snuffleupagus's first appearance, his eyes were green - like even the whites of his eyes were green! Cookie Monster was this big dark hairy lurking beast who snuck up and wordlessly devoured Kermit the Frog's W. Oh, and everyone with whom I've argued about the lyrics of the "One of these things is not like the others" song: they don't sing it the same way every time! So we're all right!

But what was even more fun is noticing as an adult things that I took as given as a child. The blue man throws a hissy fit because his alphabet soup doesn't contain all the letters of the alphabet! The grown-ups all drop everything for a game of Follow The Leader. (Oh, and speaking of the grown-ups, they're all wearing or not wearing their own wedding rings - the rings aren't part of the costume! So Bob has a wedding ring, but Gordon and Susan (who are married to each other) don't.) Gordon (who had a fro and sideburns!) and some kids are shooting hoops, and Gordon says "Let's get a game together, but first we need to count how many people we have." So he stops and they all count everyone, then they go back to just shooting hoops. In a scene about how everyone makes mistakes, Big Bird accidentally steps on his J, and Gordon says "Oh, that's okay, don't worry about it, I accidentally step on my J all the time." When I was little, I took this as absolutely normal, and thought it was very strange that I never saw a random W just sitting there on a little brick wall IRL. When I was just starting to learn to read, my parents either made or bought some little letters made of wood so then I had letters like on Sesame Street. I don't know if this is because at some point I expressed a wish for Sesame Street letters, or if they thought of it separately.

Actually, now that I think about it, one of the educational benefits of Sesame Street is that it normalized reading and counting and talking about letters and shapes and colours. Everyone on Sesame Street from children to muppets to grown-ups sometimes just stops everything and counts to 20, or thinks of things that start with B. This would actually be very useful for children because it models these skills on a level they can understand! Because I don't think small children would associate skimming the newspaper or paying for groceries with knowing your letters and numbers. When I was little, I used to think that boys couldn't do math, because I could clearly do math (and was better at it than most of the boys - and the girls - in my class) and my mother was a math teacher so she did math, but I never actually saw my father doing math. But of course he did - my father was a programmer and had investments and did home improvement projects that involved rulers and protractors and calculators and generally functioned in adult life, but I didn't think of any of this as math. Math was textbooks and worksheets and memorizing your times tables, and I just couldn't yet associate it with balancing your chequebook or calculating how much drywall you needed for the basement. So if other children's minds work similarly, Sesame Street could be really helpful just by normalizing the idea of reciting the alphabet or counting by twos.


Good morning! I hope everyone did their part for world peace.

Just a little something for the slow waning of the darkness:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Calling all triple threats

If you can sing, tap-dance, and play the trumpet, here's your audition piece:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Language commercial idea, free for the taking

There are commercials trying to convince people to learn another language. I'm not entirely sure why, but there are. (Examples: 1, 2, 3 (contains dirty language - don't play at work or within earshot of your parents or children).

I have an idea for another one.

Two people are in a cafe having what sounds like an intriguing personal conversation, except they're code-switching. The first language is the first language of the viewership, the second language is a language that the viewership is highly unlikely to understand. The conversation goes something like this:

A: So then he [other language]
B: With just his tongue????
A: Yes! And on top of that, he has the biggest [other language]!
B: Wow, so how did you deal with that? I mean your [other language] is kind of, you know...
A: Yeah, I know, [other language]. But it turns out he had been through this before, so he told me to just [other language].
B: You know, I never thought of that position before, but now that I picture it, it just might work!

So that's what the viewer hears. Now what they could do is if buzz picks up about this commercial but a translation doesn't become readily googleable, they could start running it with subtitles. Then the viewers will learn that the conversation is really something like this:

A: So then he kept accidentally pushing the instruments right out of my hand!
B: With just his tongue????
A: Yes! And on top of that, he has the biggest gag reflex I've seen in my 20 years as a dental hygiensit!
B: Wow, so how did you deal with that? I mean your hands are kind of, you know...
A: Yeah, I know, big, mannish, indelicate. But it turns out he had been through this before, so he told me to just recline the chair all the way back and stand right behind his head instead of to the side.
B: You know, I never thought of that position before, but now that I picture it, it just might work!

The overall effect should be funnier though, and the code-switching should be natural. But I'm too lazy to do this, so I'm giving the idea away.

The saddest thing I've ever seen

From this week's PostSecret.

My first thought is that I want to find whoever wrote that secret and give them a big messy snog - the kind where things get a bit more heated than you originally intended and you start veering towards the horizontal and your hands end up in unexpected places and the devil on your shoulder starts trying to convince you that under the circumstances it isn't really strictly necessary to slow down and have that conversation before you go further. (And all this despite the fact that even the slightest non-platonic kiss would violate two of the key principles of my personal ethics.)

My second thought is that I hope whoever wrote that secret gets just that kind of snog real soon, but from someone who doesn't know they wrote that secret, who never even read that secret, and maybe who doesn't even know they were in Iraq.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Do you want someone to rip your mask off?

This train of thought started with this Spacing post but wandered a bit and is now only tangental.

People in those comments talked about shaking people out of their routine and snapping them out of their zombie state. You hear about this a lot when people are talking about public space issues. It's also generally seen as something that's wrong with urban societies - for example, when I was taking courses at Mac, one classmate said she hated taking to GO to Toronto because everyone was wearing their masks.

This is always talked about as a problem to be solved in the third person. We have to snap them out of their zombie state, we have to get them to take their masks off. But you never hear it talked about in the first person. You never hear anyone saying "Oh, I just want someone to just pull me out of my daily routine and rip my mask right off!"

Is it really a problem for the people wearing the masks? When you, personally, have your mask on, are you wishing that someone would walk up and forceably rip it off?

This may just be me because I have a far higher tolerance for social disengagement than most people, but really, I'm fine. Sometimes I need my mask to protect myself (empirical evidence has demonstrated that my smiles are both beautiful enough to be remarked upon and easily misconstrued by the people I least want to misconstrue my intentions), but even when I'm perfectly safe, really I'm fine. I usually have my ipod, full of music and comedy, I usually have a good book with me, I'm mentally de-stressing and intellectually engaged. It is, quite simply, not a problem that needs solving. Are there people out there for whom it is?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Strange word choice

Toronto Hydro has also put staff on alert, to ensure they can work extra time to restore power if necessary. “It’s good that our customers get ready as well,” Thelma Hatzis of Toronto Hydro said. She said families should have flashlights with fresh batteries on hand and know that cordless phones won’t work if the electricity is down. They should also check in with elderly family members.

So singles and groups of roommates don't need flashlights?

(I know, I know, it's so not the point. It just really jumped out at me that someone landed on a word that doesn't encompass "everyone" and no one has edited it.)

Voice casting

In the song A Heart Full Of Love from Les Miz, Marius and Cosette fall in love and sing at each other, then Eponine turns up and laments that Marius never loved her.

The first thought that popped into my head when this came up on my ipod was "Of course, he didn't, you're the alto."

This made me decide that when I write my musical, the alto and the tenor will end up together. (The soprano will end up with the comic relief.) And when the big final love ballad is sung, I'll build the harmonies in contrary motion, so sometimes the alto ends up on top. Which just goes to show that disregarding traditional gender roles can spice up romance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More information please

Apparently sharing crack pipes can spread Hepatitis C.

So for those of us who aren't wise in the ways of crack pipes, does that mean sharing drinking glasses or cigarettes or kissing can also spread Hep C? Or is there some special characteristic of crack pipes? (I know that Hep C rates may be higher among drug users, but it's still quite possible that someone who doesn't know about crack pipes may find themselves sharing a drink or a kiss with a drug user.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let's watch where we're pointing

Like many people, I've been thinking a lot about poor Aqsa Parvez.

A lot of commentators have been framing this as an immigration issue or a Muslim issue, but I don't think it is.

Aqsa Parvez, 16, who died Monday night after being attacked in her Mississauga home, wanted to hang out with friends instead of obeying her 5 p.m. curfew. She wanted to listen to rap, hip hop and R & B, which her parents didn't permit.

Vivacious and outgoing, Parvez wanted to dress like a Western woman in tight-fitting clothes and show off her long, dark hair by removing her hijab.

She wanted to be "free" and independent of her family's devout Muslim beliefs.

Think about your own adolescence. Did you ever want to hang out with friends instead of being home when your parents wanted you to? Did you ever want to listen to music they didn't want you to? Did you ever want to dress in a way they didn't want you to? Did you ever want to throw off the trappings of their values and be your own person?

This same drama is playing out in millions of households all around the world. There are, of course, variations. Perhaps instead of a hijab, the clothing in contention is hemlines or cleavage or heels. Perhaps instead of Muslim beliefs, it's Catholicism or Mormonism or Orthodox Judaism. But it is happening. And in some of these families, they do beat up their kids for not conforming. Hopefully in most they don't, but in some they do. I don't have statistics on hand to back this up, but I'd bet real money that within the next year, some other kid somewhere in the world will be killed by their parents in a similar dispute, and they won't be Muslim or a new immigrant.

So let's think carefully before labelling as an immigration issue or a Muslim issue. The real problem (if all the allegations are true - insert the word allegedly wherever legally necessary) is that the father thought threats and violence and controlfreakism were appropriate responses to a disagreement over fashion and pop culture.

A petition

Canadians: Please read this and sign if you're interested.

(Aside: Have you ever felt tempted to email a politician saying nothing but "Dude, WTF?")

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ping Python people

PythOnline seems to be undergoing another resurrection! (Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen)

On barely commuting

The Toronto Star is running a series on commuting. This makes me weep with joy that I live where I do and have such an easy commute. It seems the factor driving people to live so far away from their workplaces is that they want to live in the countryside near nature, so I'm also very happy that I don't need this. (I don't mean this in a smugly zen "Oh, look at me, I managed to free myself from my needs" sort of way, I just...don't need it, the same way I don't need to play hockey.)

It probably seems weird that I keep mentioning this, but it really took an astounding amount of self-knowledge and overcoming stereotypes for it to even occur to me to live here like this. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by values like "Houses good, apartments bad." and "Nature good and healthy and desireable, cities bad and smelly and crime-ridden and something to escape from." People lived in apartments and in cities when they were poor, when they were students or newlyweds, and then moved to houses in suburbs or in the country once they started making proper grownup white-collar money. The only person I knew who lived in an apartment was my friend who was being raised by a single mother who was sometimes on welfare (an unusual situation for that time and place). The only people I knew who lived in a city were my grandparents, who were considered poor in the way that seniors living in small houses on fixed incomes generally are. My parents would drive us by the shabby urban apartment building and the tiny urban house where they used to live before they had kids whenever they thought we were becoming ungrateful little brats. But in general, it wasn't even the sort of value your parents tried to instill in you, it was just there, unquestioned. Google = how you find stuff on the internet. Coffee = what to drink if you need a pick-me-up. Beatles = good music. And houses in the suburbs = good, apartments in the city = bad.

So to end up here, I had to have a personal paradigm shift on par with if you suddenly came to the realization that Google was useless to you. But reading about these commutes, I'm glad I did.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The evolution of clothing

I just started reading I Leap Over The Wall by Monica Baldwin, which is an autobiography of a woman who entered a convent in 1914 and left in 1944.

When she first left the convent, her sister came to pick her up and brought her the first civilian clothes she'd seen in 30 years. And her sister had to explain the underwear to her, because it had changed so much! In 1914, women's underwear was more or less what Scarlett O'Hara was wearing in the corset scene of Gone With The Wind (remember from the book, it said something like "Scarlett was wearing nothing but her shift, bloomers, stockings, corset, three petticoats..." etc. etc. big long list of underthings), and in the 1940s it was more bra, panties, girdle, garters and stockings. She didn't even know what a bra was! And her sister told her she couldn't possibly go out in the kind of clothing she was used to, because it simply was not worn at all ever any more. So she puts on the clothing and feels very overexposed with a knee-length skirt, sheer stockings, and a tailored blouse with a bra working its magic underneath.

I wonder if there is any other 30-year period in history when clothing changed so much? Like right now, if you showed today's clothes to someone from 1977, they wouldn't be terribly confused. Styles have changed, but it's essentially the same - pants, shirt, bra, panties, socks, shoes. If you showed them a thong they might go "WTF are you thinking?" but I'm sure a lot of people living today react that way too. Conversely, if you walked around in public in clothes from 30 years ago, no one would really notice. They'd probably think you're intentionally rocking a retro-70s look, but it looks deliberately retro or worst case a bit frumpy, not like you're a time traveller from the past. Even if you compared today's clothes with 50 years ago, it probably wouldn't be confusing. Yes, we're less tailored and pulled together; yes, women wear pants now way more than in 1957. But people in 1957 had seen women wear pants, they'd seen jeans and runners. They might tsk tsk at how social standards have deteriorated, but their minds wouldn't boggle at the clothes. And if we went out today dressed like 1957, we'd probably look well-tailored with a deliberate retro edge. It wouldn't be exactly What's Done, but it would look like a perfectly valid fashion statement. Even the underthings: bra, panties, girdle, garters, stockings - you can still get all those things today. You'd have to look and make an effort, but it's certainly available. If you went into a store and asked for a girdle with garter belts, worst case they'd think it's for bedroom play, which is a perfectly normal reason to be buying lingerie.

I also find myself wondering how women who came of age in the 1900s and 1910s felt about this evolution of fashion. If you turned 20 in, say, 1910, you were used to wearing long skirts and all-covering clothing and copious undergarments. And perhaps you developed your personal standards of modesty based on this. Then when the 1920s happened, you'd be into your 30s. Suddenly young women were wearing far less underwear and baring their arms and legs. You might not want to indulge in this, and feel there's no reason to at your age. But fashion was never going back! At some point, probably before your 40th birthday, you would no longer be able to buy petticoats or long full skirts. So what do you do then? I can't imagine simply no longer being able to buy clothes that don't meet my standards of modesty. Imagine if only thong underwear was commercially available! Imagine if there were no swimsuits whatsoever with that covered the breasts! Wouldn't that be utterly bizarre? And yet, for women who developed their sense of modesty before the 1920s, that's just what happened!

I wish I knew someone that age that I could ask about this. My grandmothers were born in the 1920s so they're not quite old enough, and I lost the last of my great-grandparents over a decade ago. Anyone have any centenarians around the house?

Things they DID invent: dog strollers!

I so called it!

Me a year ago.

The Toronto Star two days ago.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Flight of the Conchords can harmonize in robot voices

Emotional arcs

I had an interesting experience today - the writers out there may appreciate this.

Someone had written an account of a harrowing ordeal - the sort of thing you'd find in Readers Digest (and I don't mean this disparagingly, that's just the best way I can think of to explain the kind of ordeal involved). My co-worker was assigned to translate it, and I was asked to edit the translation. (This is a bit different from normal editing - we normally don't touch structure, but we're excruciatingly critical about word choice.)

First I read the text through for plot. I don't normally do this, but I was far more curious than usual about what happened. As I read I marked a couple things that I thought could be improved, but I didn't indicate how to improve them. I just wanted to see what happened. My reaction at the end of that was "Wow, that was a pretty harrowing ordeal," but emotionally it didn't have much more impact than a newspaper article.

Then I went back to do proper editing, thinking of ways to improve the things I'd marked, making sure that everything was clear so the reader doesn't have to make any effort to understand, making sure that it sounded natural in English. I tweaked a few places, replaced one or two awkward metaphors with more typically English cliches (a good thing in translation), inserted a few synonyms, and re-ordered one or two sentences to make sure the emphasis was where it needed to be.

My reaction at the end of this was like I had gone through an emotional experience. Not the most hard-core of emotional experiences - it was like a perfectly serviceable episode of television drama that had nothing wrong with it but never knocked you off your feet - but completely unlike anything I've had before from work.

I don't normally work on material with emotional arcs. If it has a plot, it's either set out as a series of facts, or it's supporting a thesis to convince the reader of something. But this one was simply telling a story of an ordeal, for people who have never been through that sort of ordeal. I've gone through emotions when translating material with difficult subject matter, but you really have to get inside the text when translating (I find it's more mentally intensive than writing itself, although not everyone agrees on that) so you generally experience the plot from far more inside than the average reader does. I always figured editing was more on the surface, and I certainly didn't expect that it would be so much more emotionally involving than simply reading, especially after I'd already experienced the plot. The emotional arc had already been built by the author and renovated by the translator; I was just walking around with touch-up paint, and yet I came out feeling like I had been sawing wood and hammering nails all day too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quote of the moment

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together." - Garrison Keillor

That is precisely why I dislike it so much.

I keep my home secular and xmas-free for the same reason you batten down the hatches against a storm. I shudder at the idea of an xmas party at work for the same reason you'd shudder if your boss said "I have an idea! Let's all go outside and frolic in the thunderstorm!" I hate early arrival of xmas shit in stores for the same reason you'd hate having the stores overrun with umbrellas and raincoats in anticipation of a storm coming next week when all you really need is a sunhat for the sunny day forecast tomorrow. I hate xmas music for the same reason you'd hate the song "Singing in the Rain" if it was played in all public space whenever there are raindrops in the forecast.

If xmas were just this thing that happened organically, I wouldn't care. But it's so fucking in your face all the time, it just make sme want some peace and quiet.

In the words of Eddie Izzard, get your slander correct

"I tried to sell the niqab during the Taliban time but they got mad at me," shopkeeper Ahmed Shah told the Toronto Star. "The Vice and Virtue Department came to my shop and accused me of polluting with Western ways. They beat me, they took away my niqab and told me never to try this again."

Yes, you heard right, a niqab.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Spins on the dinner party question

We all know the question: Choose X people, living or dead, to invite to a dinner party. The real question they're asking is who you'd want to have a conversation with and why.

But let's play with this a bit.

What if, instead of having a dinner party, you got to have a one-on-one conversation with each person?

Suppose, in addition to interesting conversations, you also had to have a successful dinner party where everyone had charming conversation and a good time?

What if the dead people could tell you about death and whatever, if anything, happened afterwards?

Suppose you could feed the guests Veritaserum? (This assumes that they'd have their normal inhibitions under the standard dinner party, which I think people sometimes forget or disregard when answering that question.)

Suppose you could include fictional characters?

Suppose, instead of a dinner party, it was a game of truth or dare?

What if it was a book club? Which book would you read?

Suppose any language barriers between everyone involved do exist?

Suppose the guests know each other by reputation? Suppose they've somehow never heard of each other? Suppose some have and some haven't as would happen organically IRL? (e.g. Hitler knows Jesus by reputation, but not vice versa).

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I turn 27 later this month. I've been mulling that over, and I like it. I think it sounds like a properly grownup age. 25 and 26 worked that way a bit - demographics tend to do 18-24 or 18-25 as an age group so I had aged out of that group when taking surveys and stuff - but 27 feels older. Which is odd because internally I'm still the same person I was when I was 9, and when I look in the mirror I see the same person I was at 13 (with a better figure, less acne, and better glasses, but I don't think I look older, just better put-together). I feel both like I should be acting more grownup, and that I can relax a bit and be secure in my adulthood. So on one hand I'm buying books on real estate, and on the other hand I'm wearing a red coat instead of sensible black.

The one thing I'm going to have to get used to though is not being in an exceptional place for my age. Because I was born in December and because I was lucky enough not to have any major stumbles in my educational career, I was 13 when I started high school, 16 when I started taking OACs, 18 when I started uni, and 22 when I got my current job and my first very own apartment. All of those are just a bit young, just young enough to be interesting and make people think I'm perhaps a bit exceptional. But at 27 I am (as perceived by the outside world) in the same place I was when I was 22, which is perfectly respectable but no longer exceptional. Which is fine - I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be that doesn't involve a lottery win or a miraculous convergence of factors outside my control - but does require that I change my way of thinking before I make a fool of myself.

In praise of windows

I'm sitting here watching it snow. It's -7 with a windchill of -14. The wind is blowing directly at me at 30 km/h. And I am perfectly comfortable.

Usually when we appreciate technology it's newer things, but, when you think about it, it's awesome (like at least a million hotdogs) that we have the technology to make big clear windows that still keep the cold and the wind out.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Post your Bach recommendations here!

I need more Bach on my iPod, but I'm utterly overwhelmed by the options available.

I'm looking for something that does for my brain what the Goldberg Variations does. Yesterday, while I was struggling with an particularly gruesome medical translation, my iPod serendipitously gave me the Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould's 1981 version, if you're interested). The counterpoint just soothed my distraught brain and got me through the text. It was like my brain was enjoying a hot bath and a glass of wine and a massage. I need more music like that.

While I am aware of the historical context, I don't want anything that screams "Look at me, I belong in a church!" (played on the organ, sung by a choir, etc.) My negative associations with the church are just too strong. Also, I don't want anything that's so well-known it's become a cliche and can be reduced to a ringtone. For example, despite their contrapuntal virtues, I am completely immune to Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I'll take non-Bach recommendations too if you have some, but I do think it has to be Baroque counterpoint.

Recommendations of specific recordings would be great, but if you're not a recording geek I'll take specific pieces too.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Things They Should Invent: free valet parking for hospital emergency rooms

I've been to the ER once, as a child with a non-critical but still ER-worthy problem. We had to park in an underground parking garage. I don't remember whether this was a massive inconvenience because that was the last of my worries at the time, but I'm certain we had to park underground and I am certain that you can't just park in front of the hospital doors.

But parking underground is the most difficult parking of all! I know, I know, some people do it every day, a lot of people do it without any trouble. But if there's one thing that people are going to have trouble with, it's parking underground. This isn't something you want to deal with in an emergency situation! The patient shouldn't have to wait while you try to manoeuvre the car between the wall and the big concrete pole. The patient shouldn't have to go into to ER all alone while you deal with the parking. And the driver is probably going to be rather frightened and stressed, which isn't the time to be dealing with fussy parking manoeuvres.

What they should have is valets right in front of the ER door. You unload the patient, hand over the keys, and they deal with the car. Let the patient's caregiver go into ER with them, and let a calm and experienced third party play Tetris with big expensive machines.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Things They Should Invent: earbud-holder earrings

So you're going about your everyday life, listening to music to maintain your happy place and drown out the sounds of that homeless guy who keeps propositioning you and the insipid xmas music that they've been playing in all stores everywhere since FUCKING HALLOWEEN! But then you need to talk to someone, to pay for your groceries, for example. So you take your earbuds out. But where do you put them? If your iPod (or whatever) is in your pocket, the earbuds will dangle perilously close to the ground. If you throw them over your shoulder or put them through your beltloop or whatever, it's a rather complicated process to put them back, especially if you care about getting the right bud in the right ear.

The solution: attractive, functional earrings that you can somehow hang your earbuds on. You just remove them from your ears and somehow attach them to your earrings, so they're right there a centimetre below your earholes. Perhaps they could even design them so that if you take the earbud out of your ear, it will fall naturally onto the earring without your having to fiddle with some kind of hooking mechanism. No more getting wires all tangled up, no more accidentally stepping on your earbuds, no more rudely leaving one earbud in because you can't figure out what to do with them.

I have no idea what the specific design should be like, I'm leaving that for people with aesthetic sense.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Materialism and self-esteem in kids

So apparently, low self-esteem causes materialism in children, and parents are supposed to counter this by complimenting their children to raise their self esteem. (Ignore any dollar amounts mentioned in this article - the Globe and Mail lives in a different order of magnitude than the rest of us - and just focus on the message).

I see a couple of problems with this.

1. When I was a 12-year-old with no self-esteem, there was nothing my parents could possibly have done to raise it, because the source of the low self-esteem was my peers. Yes, parents, can easily do things to make it worse, but they can't make it better (all together now: life isn't fair!) My parents did try to raise my self-esteem, but all it did was destroy their credibility because clearly they didn't know what they were talking about - no matter what they said to support me or how they tried to advise me, I was still tormented at school. In fact, sometimes I was tormented because of what they did to try to help me - being spotted doing outdoor activities with a parent was worth a threat to spraypaint obscenities onto our lawn (no, I don't know how the bullies calculated that sort of thing), using a turn of phrase provided by a parent was worth at least two days of mockery, etc. No amount of parental reassurance would have negated the fact that I was treated like I was subhuman by dozens of people.

2. "Those with low self-esteem were more likely to arrange a hodge-podge of cars, money, jewellery, sports equipment and - among the youngest bunch - stuffed animals. The children with high self-regard assembled images related to friends, family and outdoor activities such as camping."

Camping is a hobby/activity. Sports are also a hobby/activity, an argument can be made for cars being a hobby/activity, and stuffed animals are both a hobby/activity and a friend. (I dare you to find anyone whose young childhood relationship with their stuffed animals was materialistic rather than affectionate.) They seem to be arbitrarily claiming camping to be superior to other hobbies/activities based on the fact that it takes place outdoors. In other words, this study would rate my self-esteem lower because I'm geeky and arachnophobic, and therefore love my computer more than camping.

3. Again thinking back to my low self-esteem days and the material things I wanted at the time, I never wanted material objects as status symbols in and of themselves; rather, I thought the function they served would help raise my standing in the world or make my life more pleasant. For example, I wanted a discman so I could listen to music more often, thus bringing my pop cultural knowledge up to an acceptable level, plus it was far more socially acceptable to be seen alone listening to music than to be seen alone doing nothing, and headphones would allow me to either tune out or plausibly pretend not to hear the things that were hissed behind my back rather than getting "Oooh, I'll bet her mother told her to just ignore us!" It wasn't the discman itself that I thought would help me socially, it was the ability to listen to music wherever and whenever.

Actually, now that I think about it, although my self-esteem has skyrocketed since its nadir in middle school, my materialism is probably higher now than it was then. Part of this is because I now have disposable income (which still feels new to me), but I think part of it is actually because my self-esteem is higher now - namely the part of my self-esteem that they're talking about in the article, the part that's based on parental approval. You see, my parents value frugality, so to Be Good I was supposed to not want material things. So I tried very hard to not want material things in order to Be Good. Then in university I tried very hard to spend as little money as possible so I could put myself through school and no one could accuse me of being spoiled. But getting a proper grownup job was a huge boost to my self-esteem. I used to feel like the whole world was looking over my shoulder disapproving of my life choices (the side-effect of being a B.A. student among scientists and mathematicians and engineers) but now that I've proven myself and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, I can shop freely. Camera phone, iPod, ridiculous special-ordered dictionaries, the complete works of Eddie Izzard on DVD - I have a job, I can afford it, so WTF do you care? Also, especially in the area of fashion, having higher self esteem makes me more willing to take risks, which I never dared do back when I was trying to be invisible. The red purse, the tall shiny boots, the fascinatingly-cut green skirt - I never would have dared try any of this as a teenager. But now that I'm brave enough to wear it, it comes home with me in a shopping bag rather than being passed over on the rack.

It would be interesting to further compare grown adults' desire for material objects with that of their younger selves. I don't think your materialism gets noticed as much when you're an adult, probably because you don't have to ask for things, you just quietly go out and buy them. Also, more things fit unquestioned into adult life. If I express the desire for a cordless phone that can do call display, it is automatically assumed that I have a good reason rather than that I'm spoiled. I don't expect to keep acquiring material goods at the same rate for the rest of my life because one does build up a reserve, but I see no reason (apart from poverty, of course) why my "I want that - I'll buy that" threshold or my standard of comfort would lower as I age.

What about you? How does your desire for material goods compare now with when you were younger with lower self-esteem?

Monday, November 26, 2007

iPod does pathetic fallacy

The snow is beautiful. It's those big fat wet flakes that can't help but fall gracefully, sticking to everyone's hair and clothing like it's a movie.

Unfortunately, my jacket is not quite warm enough, my bags are just a bit too cumbersome, the wind is blowing right in my face so I can barely see for the snowflakes on my glasses, the snow on my body is melting the instant it touches me so my hair is plastered to my head and water is dripping down my nose, and the snow on the sidewalk is creating a messy icy slush that, in the dark under the streetlights, makes it impossible to tell whether my next step will be into an inch-deep puddle or onto a greasy patch of ice.

My boots, pants, hair, makeup, glasses, purse, and groceries are all a terrible mess, and I am miserable. But, nevertheless, the snow is truly beautiful.

For this walk home, my iPod serves up k.d. lang's cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Computers and their attempts to read my mind

I needed to upgrade my French-English dictionary, so I went to and typed in "Collins-Robert". The first result? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in DVD.

Then iTunes serves up Close Every Door from that very musical.

So I proceed with my shopping, poke around and price and compare with the US prices (Canadian's better in this case), and just as I'm finalizing my purchase of my French-English dictionary, iTunes has Eddie Izzard forgetting the French word for "tiring".

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

This book is a story of Gen. Xers in New York in the dot-com bust. The plot is there, it's a story, it does its job, there's nothing wrong with it. But that's not what's cool about the book.

The first thing that's cool is the way the author does detail. Usually I'm not fond of excessive detail because it seems unrealistic to me that people would notice that, but here it just seemed spot-on. For example, early on in the book the author describes a character's make-up, from that character's point of view, in terms of the character's own perception of the flaws of her make-up and the flaws on her face that it's concealing. And it was an absolutely perfect description of my own face at the time I was reading it. It's like the author was inside my head when I look in the mirror around 3 pm and was articulating in words all the thoughts that pass through my head as wordless concepts. As the book went on I stopped noticing the descriptions of detail (which is good, it means they didn't overwhelm the book) but in every case it was exactly right without getting overwrought.

The second thing that was very cool is a spoiler. If you read the rest of this, it will stop you from having "Whoa!" moments of realization if you read the book. So you might want to stop reading now. But if you're still here, the second cool thing is that the book is set in the months leading up to September 11, but this is never explicitly mentioned (until Sept. 11 actually happens, that is). Months are mentioned, a few hints are dropped, so you might figure it out or you might not. I figured it out because a movie was alluded to (by namedropping the real-life actress who starred in it), and I happened to remember where in res I was living at the time that movie came out, thus being able to work out that it was 2001. I think if my life had been more stable during that time and I had been living in one place for several years, I would have missed it. Casually dropped into all this are references that would become more significant after Sept. 11. Firefighters are included in a list of people who might be thought of as heroes. The skyline of Manhattan is mentioned, without mentioning any specific buildings. It's all very subtly done, as is appropriate given that the characters had no idea what was coming.

This makes me really curious about how this book will stand up to the test of time, how it will look to readers 20 or 50 years from now for whom this setting is nothing but a history lesson.

Brilliant Ideas That Will Never Work: ugly glasses protest for better insurance

Optical coverage in the health insurance of absolutely everyone whose insurance details I know is insufficient. Every insurance plan I'm familiar with (which includes university employees, teachers, steelworkers, some hospital workers, and all levels of public service) pays a limited dollar amount, and many don't even cover the cost of lenses.

This is unacceptable. Insurance companies should - actually OHIP should - cover the actual cost of glasses (or, at the very least, lenses), not just "Oh, you need glasses, okay, here, have $200." But the problem is that because glasses are so important - we need to wear them on our faces, all the time, to see - people end up coughing up whatever it costs to get a decently functional and reasonably attractive pair of glasses.

But imagine for a moment if everyone stopped doing that. Everyone started buying only what was covered by their insurance. Ugly square plastic glasses abound - not the hipster kind, the kind you'd expect to see on a serial killer who's been in jail for 20 years. Everyone does without anti-glare and without sunglasses. Everyone who does have glasses is walking around with smudged lenses and crooked frames. Everyone whose doesn't have insurance coverage (or doesn't have enough coverage to buy even lenses) is walking around squinting unattractively, unable to drive if their licence has conditions.

That would certainly show the world how insufficient our insurance plans are, making the powers that be more willing to increase coverage for both the haves and the have nots. Unfortunately it will never work because no one who can possibly make the money work will be willing to make themselves blind and unattractive.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Downtime at work

When I get home from work, I'm tired. My brain is like a computer that badly needs to be rebooted, with all kinds of extra little file fragments floating around in the memory, taking up processing power. (I have no idea if I mixed that metaphor, but you know what I mean.) I need to just tune out, close myself off from the world, and reboot my brain before I can do anything, sometimes before I can even do anything interactive online.

I'd always thought this was your basic introvert overstimulation, but I think it's something more than that. At my previous job, which involved far more work with people, I didn't have this happen. I walked out of the office and my head was clear. Sometimes I was tired, yes, sometimes I was cranky, but my brain didn't need rebooting.

So I've been thinking lately about why exactly this is, and I think it comes down to one difference: at my previous job, downtime was allowed; at my current job, I'm supposed to be actively working at all times.

At my previous job, part of the reason I was there was simply to staff a campus office in case anyone calls or drops by. People did all the time, of course. Some days I didn't even get to sit down. But there wouldn't necessarily be people. There was the possibility that I could just sit at my desk and no one would come ask me for help all day. We did have was a long schedule of where all the equipment needed to be at what time, and we did have a queue full of requests. But if all the equipment was where it was supposed to be, I'd looked at the whole queue and done everything I could, and no one had asked me to do anything else, I was perfectly justfied in sitting at my desk doing nothing. Plus we were allowed to play on the internet or do homework or whatever if there was nothing else we were supposed to be doing. So it gave me a sort of motivation - get all this shit done, and then I can get some work done on that assignment or watch Homestar Runner (we didn't have Youtube back then). Most days I didn't get to do this - most days I was running around like crazy - but the sentiment that when all these tasks are done I can have some recreation just helped push me through the rush.

But at my current job, we're supposed to be in the office doing proper work all day long regardless of our productivity. If I finish two days' quota in four hours, I am still required to stay at the office and keep working for the rest of the day. And even if I did manage to finish all my work (which has never ever happened - they're quite good at keeping us full) recreational internet usage is strictly forbidden, so I'd still have to sit at the office until the end of my designated work hours in case any new work comes in. So basically there's less motivation to get the job done. I still meet all my deadlines of course, but when I finish a task, all I have to look forward to is continuing to work at at least the standard pace until quitting time, then coming in at the same time tomorrow and doing the same thing, etc. etc. for several more decades. Of all the jobs I might possibly have this one has the least struggle per dollar earned, but the daily and hourly motivation still leaves something to be desired.

I think this is why I work faster from home. Because I can reward myself and don't have to put on the appearance of working (while it's true that no one would scold me for staring into space - it is purely mental work, after all - I can't blog or read comics while trying to clear my head) I can work in productive bursts and do something irrelevant in between rather than having to spend the whole day trying to maintain a constant work pace. So it looks like I should be working towards being in a position to work from home more often...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Things They DID Invent: Songza!

A few months ago, I proposed "Youtune" as an audio equivalent of Youtube. Turns out Songza does this. Their catalogue is not as comprehensive as I'd like - I can still outsmart it - but it's not even 2 weeks old yet so we'll give it some time.

Let's see if this embedding thingy works...

Edit: It sounds like this the soundtrack of the music video, rather than being the actual song as recorded on the album. (That's what's up with all the talking at the end. Here's the video in question - it is one of the best videos I've seen and definitely worth watching.)

Don't run a reader poll when you aren't giving the readers enough information

Boys, 8 and 9, charged with raping an 11-year-old girl.

Obviously this raises one major logistical question, and a series of smaller ones. You can't expect the reader to form an informed opinion without more information on the choreography of the alleged incident, as well as how much theoretical grounding in the subject matter all the parties involved had.

Now I totally understand if they can't publish this information. You have crimes involving minors, you have sexual assault charges, you have a case that has not yet gone to court. There are several layers of reasons why they can't publish all the information the reader needs to informedly evaluate the situation. Which is fine.

Just don't run a reader poll when you've provided so little information!

Nothing fruitful could possibly result from polling the readers based on insufficient information! It's tacky and cheap and sensationalist, and no good can possibly come of it. Run your poll on a more fully-informed story instead.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vitamin D + acne update

Further to my hypothesis about Vitamin D's effect on my skin:

I've just gone through a full cycle without the Vitamin D, and my skin has behaved normally during this time. Apart from my normal clogged pores, there were only two minor zits of note, both adjacent to my period and neither of which left a scar.

When I start my next cycle next week, I'm going to resume the Vitamin D for another month just to observe what happens.

Fashion tips for people with narrow shoulders

If you have narrow shoulders, don't buy a purse with flat shiny straps. The straps will slip off your shoulders far more readily than regular purse straps, which is particularly problematic if both your hands a full of heavy grocery bags and the purse contains several valuable pieces of personal electronics.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

If you're in the market for nailpolish

Right now, PharmaPlus has Rimmel nailpolish on for $1.99, plus like five bonus air miles each. I don't remember if I've blogged this before, but the Rimmel Wear 10 polish actually does last significantly longer than regular polishes (it lasts a week on me, and generally my nails chip if I even give a passing thought to doing housework). So yeah, go to PharmaPlus and buy one in every colour that appeals to you.

Friday, November 16, 2007

For the lack of an interpreter, a life was lost

A translated transcript of the Dziekanski video.

I'm glad the G&M did this, because I'm too squeamish to watch a person die. I wish we had more context though. I'm not familiar with Vancouver airport and I haven't been on an international flight in years. Was he just in the wrong room and not leaving that room going looking for his mother? Or was someone preventing him from leaving that room? If someone was preventing him, why couldn't they find an interpreter? Wasn't he in there for 10 hours? It would make more sense if we knew the layout.

While I know the real issue is that the police tased him at least three times, but I keep thinking how this might never have happened if there had just been someone there who had enough Polish to understand him and enough English to navigate the airport. Which I can do, either alone or with the help of my cellphone.

I've never been in the situation of witnessing someone acting erratically in another of my languages, but I might rethink my reaction in the future. I've always been told by people who know better than I do that if someone is acting threateningly because of distress or a mental health problem, they're still a threat to me and I should protect myself accordingly. But now I think I should take the Starfleet approach and answer any distress signals I can decode, at least until someone better able to help them gets there. I've always been willing to intervene to protect a person from another person, but I never thought before about protecting people from themselves before the police come. I'm not the kind of person who trusts the police unconditionally, but I always assumed they'd be able to handle the situation of a person in distress in another language. It looks like I can't assume that any more, which means it's my job now.

Edit: So far, I've been thinking about this in terms of the difficulty of getting an interpreter in the context of everyday life, about how I'd handle the problem in ordinary public space. But, as a letter in today's Toronto Star from one Omer Lifshitz of Toronto (whose name I am deliberately making Googleable because he deserves credit for seeing something I missed) pointed out, Robert Dziekanski had just gotten off a plane from Poland! They knew where he came from, and there must have been members of the flight crew who spoke Polish since he managed the flight okay. It should have taken far fewer than 10 hours for someone to notice that he had been in the arrivals area for a long time, look at his passport and/or boarding pass, identify his language needs, and find someone who speaks Polish. Before I disagreed with people who said this is the airline's responsibility, but now that I think about it they had people, right there getting off the same plane as Pan Dziekanski, who could have explained things to him in Polish.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coolest thing ever of the moment

I'm not too fond of marching bands, but as a band geek and a gamer I can't help but think this is awesome (like at least 100,000 hotdogs).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Seen in the hallway: the neighbour dog who's been WOOFing at me every time I step out into the hall. Turns out its a tiny little schnauzer! I'm impressed by the little guy's lung power!

Seen on the way to the store: a lady with two adorable dogs, standing on the corner as though waiting for someone.

Seen on the way home from the store: a different lady with the same two adorable dogs, standing on the same corner as though waiting for someone.

Seen at Noah's: cookies called "Bowel Buddies". I'm surprised anyone would eat something with the word bowel in the name when they have the option of eating something without the word bowel in the name.

Seen at Dominion: those tote bags that they're trying to get people to use instead of plastic bags, redesigned with a seasonal motif. (And I'm using the word "seasonal" literally - pine trees and snowflakes). I'm wondering what went on in the strokey-beard meeting behind that. Why introduce the concept of seasonality to something specifically designed to be permanent and represent permanence?

Seen in my ZoneAlarm alerts: "Trillian is trying to act as a server. IP address:" Yeah, you do that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dancing through the streets

Evening rush hour. It's dark out, which we're still getting used to since it's only a week into standard time. I'm standing directly across Yonge St. from where I need to be, but unfortunately there's no crosswalk at that point. I'm clad entirely in black, wearing four-inch heels, burdened with shopping bags, and pondering whether to risk a jaywalk at this point or to walk a block to a proper crosswalk.

An older woman in a similar predicament is also pondering the same thing, so we catch each other's eye and wordlessly form a temporary alliance. We are soon joined by another woman pushing a baby stroller. We scope out the traffic, use the power of our numbers to assert our position in the curb lane, and then on some unspoken signal run across after that taxi cab, while that SUV is making a left turn, myself and the older woman flanking the stroller by some unspoken agreement in case it's too low for the cars to see. On the other side of the street we unceremoniously dissolve our alliance and hurry off our separate ways, with only a brief glance back to make sure the mother managed to get the stroller up on the curb.

I think this is why people in cities don't make small talk with each other.

I've previously theorized that it's because of sheer numbers (I cross paths with 100 people on the way to the subway this morning - like hell I'm going to say hi or even smile and nod at all of them!), but now I think it's that by having so many people crowded together, we automatically have to engage in quite a few positive social interactions that generate goodwill, just as part of walking around without being an asshole. So because of this, maybe we don't have to chitchat to get positive social interactions or goodwill, because we're already sated.

For example, on the way to work I have to do the door-holdy dance 10 times. I get to a door, take it from the person who's holding it from me, say thank you, hold it for the next person, receive their thanks. There are also two elevator dances, where everyone in the elevator positions themselves in order of anticipated departure, where the person near the buttons tries to offer to press buttons for everyone while everyone tries to press their own buttons without invading any personal space, where you either hold the door and the person running apologizes for making you old the door, or someone opens the door with the call button and then apologizes for delaying you while you apologize for not seeing them. Half the time there's a dog in the apartment elevator which means we also have to do the doggie dance, where I'm gracious about the fact that the dog is sniffing and/or jumping on me while the dog's human is gracious about the fact that I keep petting and babytalking at their dog. There's also a dance at every subway stop (Are there any free seats? Does anyone need my seat more than I do? Am I in anyone's way? No, no, you go ahead, I'm getting off soon anyway) and every subway staircase (I have to make my train and not be in the way of the people going for the other train and I can go fast but still I'm wearing heels and it's downhill so I'll go in front of this old lady to break a trail for her (I hope she realizes I'm helping her and not budding) and behind this big tall man.) Plus people often ask me for directions or to help them with strollers or something - I'd say it happens at least three times a week.

So in total, we're pushing 20 positive social interactions just on a wordless, ipoded and sunglassed, 17-minute commute to work. Who needs chitchat after all that?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The weirdest thing about In Flanders Fields

The last two lines, my bolding:

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields


Though implies an expected cause and effect. Even though poppies are growing here, we still cannot (or will not) sleep. As if the narrator expects that the reader is thinking "WTF? Why can't you sleep? There are poppies growing there!"

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that it's a drug reference.

And yet they have schoolchildren recite this?

One drink a day for women and two for men

I keep seeing that people limit their drinking to one drink a day for women and two for men.

What I really want to know is whether this gender difference is due to the difference in average body mass between the genders, or some other factor.

I'm 5'7" and 150 lbs. It certainly wouldn't be out of the ordinary for a man to be exactly the same size. So would a 5'7" 150 lbs. man be able to safely drink twice as much as I can safely drink? Or is his limit slightly less because he's a bit smaller than the average man? And does that mean my limit is more because I'm somewhat bigger than the average woman?

Or are there some kind of metabolic differences between the sexes independent of body size?

We could really use this information, and people who are far bigger or smaller than average could probably use it even more.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Strange cartoon?

I'm trying to figure out if I'm reading today's Toronto Star editorial cartoon right. (Yes, that's the Hamilton Spectator cartoonist - that's what the Star printed today.)

I'm seeing in that cartoon the passing the torch symbolism from In Flanders Fields, but it seems to be endorsing that passing of the torch. The characters might be smiling, and at any rate they certainly don't look particularly grim about it. Because they're all soldiers and only soldiers, and because they're all labelled as wars, it really looks to me like the poppy is symbolizing warfare itself. But then he passes it on to a child? With what looks like a smile on his face? Without hesitating or questioning why he's doing so? So they're essentially declaring warfare inevitable without questioning that declaration, or even bothering to look grim while they do it? I don't think that's what my great-grandfathers had in mind when they were sitting in muddy shitty rat-infested holes shooting at each other.*

The text to the right doesn't give a clear interpretation (I think it's a newspaper article, not the artist's own commentary), but it certainly doesn't do anything to make me think my interpretation is wrong.

(On a purely artistic note, the transition from sepia to b&w to colour is particularly good.)

Update (maybe?): No reply from the cartoonist yet, but it occurred to me in the shower that it would make much better sense if all those soldiers were dead. That would also explain why the Afghanistan soldier has a different colour background than the child (I assumed it was due to geography). Mr. MacKay? You still out there?

*I can't trace every branch of my family tree back to WWI, but based on pure geography it seems quite possible that half my ancestors were on the other side. I'll never know this for certain, because my surviving ancestors would not tell anyone if this were true. The more I learn about WWI, the less confident I am that it actually defended our freedoms or way of life, but even if it did then surely any gratitude I'm supposed to have to WWI veterans for trying to preserve half my ancestors' freedom and way of life is cancelled out by the fact that they were trying to destroy the other half of my ancestors' freedom and way of life? At any rate, all WWI seems to have done for me is created the conditions for WWII, which created the conditions for my family to flee Europe, which made it possible for my parents to meet and make me. And I'll tell you right now, as the person in the best position to know, my existence isn't worth all that trouble.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My inner child watches the news

From Calgary's CTV news:

"Prime Minister Harper will go one step further with the Dalai Lama..."

Yeah, if they're lucky and all goes well, they might get to third tonight...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I am superwoman!

Update to the "OMG the paper towels are behind the dryer!" saga:

I was trying to fish them out with a hook cleverly* fashioned out of a wire coathanger (yes, it only took me 2 days to think of that) when I gave the machine a frustrated push.


So long story short, through sheer brute force, my wimpy out of shape 150 pound body managed to move this big hulking 350 pound machine a couple of inches, which is enough to get one of my scrawny arms into the space between the machine and the wall and pull out the paper towels. The mirror is still back there somewhere, but at least it's not flammable.

That pill I missed yesterday must have upped my testosterone level or something.

*This cleverness is negated by the fact that I tried to move the machine back while the washer was running, and couldn't figure out why it was heavier all the sudden.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I think the mirror broke

So I wake up this morning, stumble to the shower, turn on the water, and it does that weird spitty thing that water does when the pump has been off. Then the water that starts coming out is a bit dirty-looking. I think okay, it got turned off at some point, I'll let it run a bit until it clears up. So I make myself some coffee and come back in five find GREEN residue all over the bathtub. A frantic call to a frantic superintendent later, I learn that a booster pump turned off during the night and I should just let the water run until it clears up. So I let it run and run, but it isn't clearing up. Experimentation finds that only the hot water is contaminated, so (after a futile attempt to clean the green residue - I've got some of it off but the rest won't budge) I have a cold shower cum spongebath. (Why is the water from the cold tap actually cold instead of being room temperature?) Then I try to get myself ready for work, despite the fact that I'm running way late from this water problem and the supers keep running in and out of the apartment to check on things (times like this I'm glad they're gay, because some of my previous superintendents I wouldn't want around when I'm in just a bathrobe). Finally, after running the hot water taps for an HOUR (and hot water is already the biggest part of my utility bill) they start to clear up.

So now I've got green stains on my bathtub that I don't know how to get off, my paper towels are still stuck behind the washer/dryer, I've got to run an empty wash cycle to make sure the washer doesn't turn anything green but I can't do that until I've retrieved the paper towels, I feel gross and smelly because I didn't have a proper shower, and I've got to take ALL the dirty dishes OUT of my dishwasher and run an empty cycle and put them ALL back in.

And on top of everything else, in all the confusion I forgot to take my pill this morning, so I was almost 12 hours late with it. Which, of course, causes my uterine lining to go "Warning, warning, ethinyl estradiol levels have dropped severely, all hands abandon ship!" Which, in turn, produces more laundry that I can't do until I've retrieved the paper towels, which I don't know how I'm going to do that because I couldn't find one of those hand-grabby toys anywhere.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just For Laughs top 25

I don't think Russell Peters is #1. He's quite good and I don't begrudge him his place on the list, but he's not better than Rowan Atkinson's changing at the beach bit, he's not better than Mitch Hedberg, and, although I'm not usually into this kind of act, he's not better than that ventriloquist who could have three different voices going while drinking from a glass.

What surprises me though is the people who weren't on the list. I can't seem to google up the list of people you could vote for, but I am certain it included at least one Monty Python bit, Eddie Izzard, Wendy Liebman, and Lewis Black. Other people who have been on Just For Laughs (but I don't remember if they were in the voting or not) include Greg Proops, Omid Djalili, Margaret Cho, and Flight of the Conchords, (to say nothing of acknowledged classics like Bill Cosby, Bill Hicks, and George Carlin). None of these people were in the top 25, but Ray Romano and Drew Carey were? And at least two comedians whom I have already completely forgotten?

Another thing that was interesting is how some of the more iconic acts now feel stale. Tim Allen's bit, which got him his sitcom and skyrocketed his profile, just had me rolling my eyes thinking "It's been done." (Yes, it has, by him, 15 years ago). And Rick Mercer from 1997, and Seinfeld from like 1992 - I was sitting there thinking "Yes, I see that this is funny and worth of being on this list" but I wasn't actually laughing. Which, again, is why I'm surprised by the absence of all the people whose absence I mentioned above - with them, I actually laugh, even in repeats. I'm not just acknowledging that it's good, I'm actually laughing the sixth time I hear it.

That said, there were still many bits that were quite good. I was glad to see Mitch Hedberg there, I was surprised to be impressed by a ventriloquist, and early Jon Stewart was brilliant. None of these acts would be a weak link in a typical 30 or 60 minute episode of Just For Laughs. But I was disappointed to see how often the voting public went for the more bland and serviceable comedians on the list.

Bad luck

My package of paper towels fell behind my dryer, which is a problem because it's a stacked washer-dryer in a closet and i can't even move it an inch. So I spent two hours using various creative ways to try to fish it out, without success. Then I decided to give up and go buy one of those grabby toy things tomorrow. So I put back all the stuff that lives on top of the machines (don't worry, it's all too big to fall behind there) and in doing so accidentally knocked down the hand mirror i'd been using to look behind the machine. So now my paper towels are behing my dryer, probably causing a fire hazard, my towels badly need to be washed (and they're the one thing that MUST go in the dryer because they're too heavy for my clothesline thingy when wet, I now have to retrieve the stuff from behind the machines blind, and I've probably just broken a mirror.

And I'm still doing time for the last mirror I broke. I wonder if they're concurrent or consecutive sentences?

ETA: I think maybe an actual fishhook would help. Anyone know where to buy those?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Theory confirmed

I recently heard a theory that the mission of the US republican party is actually to put political parodyists out of business.

I believe that theory is confirmed with the following quote:

I will follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell and I will shoot him with your products.
-John McCain, talking to employees of a gun factory.

I also think this quote may demonstrate a lack of foresight and planning on the part of Mr. McCain. If you have followed someone to the gates of hell, and you want to punish them, wouldn't the optimal course of action to be to push them into the gates of hell? Isn't that the ultimate punishment? I mean, people do sometimes recover from gunshot wounds, and if hell is right there, why would you even risk another course of action?

What talkshows should do during the writers' strike

Apparently TV writers are going to go on strike and, among other things, this will stop production of talkshows like Leno and Conan.

So why not can the comedy part of the show and add another interview or performance segment instead?

I don't know the details of the unions involved, and I'm not trying to encourage scabbing, but the impression I get from the articles I've read is that TV shows can keep on working and producing and airing whatever they can manage to do, they just can't write new material. But you don't have to write interviews, you just have to get someone to interview.

On gilding the lily

One habit of mine that is unpopular with some people is that I don't decorate. My walls are painted whatever colour they happen to be, my furniture is what it is (mostly what I could get for free), I simply don't put effort into this area because I don't have any sort of creative impulses that can be expressed through the medium of interior decorating.

Another habit of mine that is unpopular with some people is that I wear make-up. I've blogged about this before - essentially it makes me feel good and gives me a sense of control over my body, but there are people who think I (and people in general) shouldn't do this because we should just learn to love and accept the appearance of our bodies as they are.

This leads me to wonder: are there also people out there who actively believe that everyone should just learn to love and accept the appearance of their homes as they are, without feeling the need to cover the flaws and paint over them to make something more attractive?

Death (or cake?)

I've been reading about doctors diagnosing cancer patients, and the patients deciding whether to go through with arduous chemo or just to accept the limited time they have left without chemo so they can enjoy it.

I've always assumed I'd want to know if I had a specific limited life expectancy, because that would change how I arrange my life. Right now the reason I work (and, consequently, structure a lot of my life around my job) is because I don't have enough money to support myself for the rest of my life. By working, I not only accrue money, but increase my likelihood of finding another job when I lose this one. But if I had six months left to live, I'd have enough money to support myself for that long, so I'd want to know so I could quit my job and have my time free. I might also buy some things I wouldn't normally (I'd rethink whether a region-free DVD player is worth the investment if I'm not going to live to see that movie released in North America, for example) or not buy things I was planning to (my black pants are getting a bit worn, but like hell I'm spending my last months on earth shopping for pants!)

But reading about these cancer patients makes me think that maybe I wouldn't want to know, because then there'd be such pressure to make the most of every single minute. Like right now I'm sitting in my bathrobe (yes, at 2:30 pm) drinking coffee and reading my book. I am content. But if I only had a few months left to live, would I want to be doing this? Do I care enough about this book to spend some of my precious time left reading it? I love sleeping until I wake up naturally, but is the joy I get from that worth spending my last months on earth unconscious? I've never been to Paris, but I don't particularly enjoy travelling. So should I go to Paris so I don't die without seeing it, or is that giving into social pressure? And what if I find there are people who want to spend time with me before I die, but I don't really care if I spend time with them? What's my responsibility to them?

I don't know if I'd want to have all these dilemmas every single minute of my dying days! Maybe it would be preferable to just get hit by a bus, even if does mean spending more time in the office than I would have preferred and doing without a few material indulgences that I could have afforded.

Things I Don't Understand: age, weight, and dress size

Some people, especially women, don't want other people to know stuff like their age, weight, and dress size.

But why would you feel the need to keep these secret from people who can see you?

Either it won't surprise them (in which case they have no more information than they would if you didn't say anything), or they'll be astoundingly surprised and admire your ability to take care of yourself/dress well/etc.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Esprit de l'escalier

I've decided the answer to "Why don't you just buy a small house in Hamilton?" (or some other place with cheap housing and a huge-ass commute) is going to be "For the same reason you aren't buying a dairy farm in Kazakhstan."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anyone out there remember their phonetics?

My inner child and I were trying to think of the naughtiest-sounding phoneme name we could, and came up with lingual-labial fricative.

I know this doesn't exist in English, but if it did exist what would it be? Wouldn't it be like blowing a raspberry?

I hope it is like blowing a raspberry, because that would give it maximum comedic potential.

"Hey baby, you want a lingual-labial fricative?" ***phllllbt***

Now I really think the Burmese panty superstition is false

I previously blogged that I wanted a fact check on the superstition that Burmese men believe contact with women's undies takes away their power. Today in the Star, Antonia Zerbisias writes about it:
According to the Thailand-based Lanna Action for Burma, senior general Than Shwe, whose troops bludgeoned unarmed monks and nuns, is very superstitious. The dictator and his minions "believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power."

Doesn't matter if the lingerie is clean or dirty, the fact that it's feminine makes it emasculating.

(Not that it stops Burma's state-sanctioned rape.)

Her quote is from the same organization my research turned up, so that doesn't count as an independent fact-check. But the state-sanctioned rape is new (to me) information, and is readily confirmed by Google.

This really makes me think that the panty superstition is false. Because how on earth do you rape someone if you're afraid of their undergarments?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sometimes symptom relief is enough

This article seems to be missing the point.

It criticizes the use of cough and cold medicines on the basis that they don't make the patient get over the cold any faster.

But they don't have to.

All they have to do is temporarily relieve the symptoms, whether in reality or through placebo effect, for long enough for the patient to fall asleep at night. And both the yummy orange Triaminic that I took as a child and the hideous green Nyquil that I take now as an adult do this successfully.

I would find it very difficult to believe that having a proper night's sleep doesn't speed up the healing as compared with a restless fitful night. But even if it doesn't make things faster, if you can fall asleep and stay asleep for a good 8 hours (or more if you're a small child), that at least puts you out of your misery for a while, and you get hours of quiet restful bliss rather than hours of miserably struggling to breathe whilst your brains leak out your nostrils in mucus form.

Surely there are some days when that's quite enough to ask of our medicine?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Things I noticed today

1. When I wear a cami under my blouse, I'm far more inclined to get a wedgie - even though the underwear and pants are the same!

2. When I was in uni I lived in a co-ed res with co-ed group bathrooms, and I was perfectly fine with this. So in theory and as a matter of principle, I would have no problem with a man being in a public bathroom while I'm in there. However, in the building where I work we have gender-segregated public bathrooms, and standard operating procedure is that the cleaning people knock and make sure no one is in there before they enter the bathroom of the other gender. But when I'm in the bathroom and a male cleaner knocks, or I enter the bathroom and a male cleaner is there, I don't tell him "No, go ahead, keep doing your job, it doesn't bother me," even though it doesn't bother me. It seems like it could be misinterpreted as a come-on or something. It's like I don't mind a man being in the bathroom, but I'm concerned about what a man might think of me if I tell him I don't mind him being in the bathroom. Which is really odd.

3. They have candy canes at Shoppers Drug Mart! It isn't even Halloween yet! I could buy candy canes and give them to trickertreaters! I considered that too, but if I bought candy canes in October I'd be creating a market for candy canes in October, and that's the sort of thing I'm trying to avoid.

4. Speaking of stores and holidays, I've noticed that Halloween decorations are far less giant spider themed this year than in past years. Well done!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved in gold...

Edited to add for all the people who are getting here from google: This song is The Way by Fastball

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Things that piss me off

I don't particularly enjoy xmas. It's so long and drawn out and noisy and "OMG, everyone must be happy because this is the happiest time of the year!" all for a celebration of the birth of the messiah of a religion that I don't believe in.

What pisses me off is people telling me that I should celebrate and enjoy (as though you can just enjoy something because someone tells you to) xmas because it isn't really a xian holiday, it actually has Pagan roots.

But I'm not Pagan either! The fact that it has Pagan roots is completely irrelevant! So a holiday in one religion I don't believe in actually has roots in another religion I don't believe in? If they discovered that Ramadan had Buddhist roots, would everyone suddenly start fasting during Ramadan?

It also seems to me that this line of reasoning might be a bit disrespectful to Pagans, although I can't quite articulate why.


Not a thing that pisses me off, just an observation resulting from a long and winding train of thought that came to me before I hit Publish Post:

I make no secret of the fact that I have a negative view of my former religion. I figure as someone who was once on the inside, I'm entitled. I've been there, I've lived it, I've given it really quite a lot of thought including a full-fledged crisis of faith, and I've come to the conclusion that it's a negative thing. Not everyone's going to agree with me, but I don't care; I know whereof I speak.

What I find odd is that people judge me for being anti-xian in exactly the same way they'd judge an outsider who had never been exposed to xianity for being anti-xian. They view my negative assessment of the religion I grew up in, studied, wrestled with, carefully examined, and ultimately decided to leave (entailing some family drama) as being just as intolerant as a negative assessment coming from someone who has never even heard of the contents of John 3:16. To me, that sounds like considering the following to scenarios perfectly equal:

"I'm heard of that Bob fellow, and I HATE HIM!"
"You are so judgemental!"


"I was married to Bob for 15 years, and he was an abusive husband who made my life miserable. I HATE HIM!"
"You are so judgemental!"

I've been trying to figure out if there's anything comparable other than religion where this can happen, where an insider's negative assessment is considered just as unjustly judgemental as an outsider's. I can't think of anything offhand.

I can see myself blink!

The LCD display on my new phone has a bit of a delay. So if I stand in front of a mirror with the lens of the camera pointing at myself and the LCD display pointing at the mirror, I can see myself blink in the reflection of the LCD! That is so weird!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mindfuck of the moment

Me in conversation: "...and I'm wearing liquid eyeliner. Now, I know what you're thinking, but I have heavy black brows and lashes so I can in fact carry it off."

Which gives me an idea for a mindfuck: say to people "I know what you're thinking, but..." then add something completely irrelevant.

"...and I think the elastics are getting stretched out. Now, I know what you're thinking, but San Diego isn't anywhere near Sacramento."

"...and he said their marriage is essentially over and they're just getting tied up in the divorce process. Now, I know what you're thinking, but red light has a longer wavelength than blue light."

"I do like to put ice in the martini glass itself. Now, I know what you're thinking, but I do have a lot of trouble washing windows without getting streaks."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Coercion and other big words

This train of thought started in this post of mine from last week, which took me to this article in Salon (possibly NSFW - talks about sex and there's a picture of a couple in bed).

This all got me thinking about the one concept that's missing from our debate about age of consent laws, and is also missing from debate about polygamy, and debate about sex work.

That word is coercion.

What our laws tend to do is if we don't want people to be coerced into doing something, we make that thing illegal - generally in a way that punishes the alleged coercer while treating the alleged coercee as a victim. Which is perfectly appropriate if it is, in fact, a case of coercion, but needlessly punishes people if the situation is in fact perfectly well-informed and consensual.

What our laws should be doing is making it illegal to coerce people into doing these things, while making it perfectly legal to do them willingly. If the laws aren't succeeding in doing this, the laws must be rewritten so that they do succeed, rather than taking away people's rights to consensually and fully-informedly do something that doesn't hurt anyone else, or casting competent people as ignorant victims. Is this an easy thing to legislate? Hell no! I wouldn't know where to begin on wording it! But we can all grok the concept. We can all scrunch up our brains and think for a bit and picture how, say, a fully-informed consensual polygamous marriage could exist. And because we the concept readily exists, there must be some way to word it to create legislation that allows for personal freedom that doesn't harm others, but prevents coercion.

Since one of the key points in my original post was that my 14-year-old self was capable of making an informed decision about whether to have sex, I then found myself thinking about how she'd handle the concept of coercion. I am certain that I would have known at that age whether or not I was being coerced, but what I'm not certain on is whether I'd be able to articulate that concept to others. I don't remember if I knew the word coercion at that age or not, and it's a difficult concept to articulate if you don't have the word.

Then I found myself thinking that there are a lot of concepts that you meet in early adolescence that are very difficult to articulate, but it's very necessary to tell someone if they're happening. Examples:

etc. etc. etc.

It would be very helpful at about the age of 11 to know these words, just so you can put a name on your experience. Compare: "He's sexually harassing me!" vs. "He's...saying things to me!"

Now some of these concepts are simple enough that they could be taught as vocabulary words. But others are more difficult. Harassment and abuse, for example, you'd need to give a certain amount of training so the kids would recognize the scope of the words. (And this is nothing against kids, I've heard adults that don't grok the concepts either. Once someone wrote a letter to the editor saying that the fact that Sheila Copps didn't concede Liberal Party leadership to Paul Martin was sexual harassment). And training the kids on what exactly does constitute abuse/harassment/etc. could also result in problems, because the prospective perps would be taking the training as well as the prospective victims. They'd know exactly what their victims know, and may be able to use it to their advantage. This happened when I was in school - in grade 7 we had training on how to resist peer pressure, complete with role-playing. So then in grade 9, when I tried to casually continue socializing with my so-called friends without taking up smoking, they recognized the technique I'd used in grade 7 Guidance class for casually continuing socializing without eating any of the Doritos, and called me on it. But at the same time, it would also be useful to everyone to learn that because certain behaviour constitutes harassment/abuse, it is unacceptable. It's a tricky line and I don't know where exactly it lies. Hopefully someone does.