Monday, April 30, 2007

Essential services

On the morning of Monday, April 23, one of the news stories on the radio was that the students of Virginia Tech were returning to class. Apparently classes had been suspended since the shooting, and students also had the option either completing their semester, or taking whatever their current mark was and leaving for the rest of the semester. I remember thinking that was very civilized, and reflecting wistfully on the flexibility of academia.

Then it was time to head out to work. There had just been an accident where a TTC worker was killed, the subway was offline for my entire commute. The TTC was out in full force trying to cover for the outage. Every available single bus (including these really old retro buses) was being used to shuttle passengers along the subway routes. There were transit supervisors everywhere directing people. Basically everyone in the entire system was going full throttle to make sure the city keeps moving.

Despite the fact that the two situations are very different, the contrast nevertheless really struck me. At Virginia Tech they get the time and flexibility they need to recover a bit, while the TTC people have to jump right into work full throttle without missing a beat.

I hope the general public keeps this in mind next time they're inclined to get all bitchy at the TTC because it pays some of its workers over $20/hour.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fictional universes

When I'm reading science fiction or fantasy or historical fiction, the one thing I really enjoy is just immersing myself in the peaceful everyday life of the fictional/historical universe. I love the whimsy of everyday life at Hogwarts. I love the bucolic peace of the Shire. I love the very beginning of Gone With The Wind, before the Civil War starts. Unfortunately, these genres tend to demand that once the calm happy everyday existence in the universe is established, it is completley boulversé. The protagonist has to leave everyday life to go off on some grand adventure (which will take up most of the plot), and then introducing the reader to the universe is set aside in favour of the larger plot.

Some books are able to work around this. Judith Merkle Riley's Vision of Light has the protagonist in her optimal place narrating the events that got her there, so I got to enjoy the happy everyday life throughout the upheavel of the rest of the book. The Mists of Avalon doesn't have a single happy place, but rather a series of places are travelled through and there's no single grand quest, so, again, I get to enjoy everyday life throughout. But most often, the genre demands that we only get a fleeting, tantalizing glimpse of happy everyday life, before the protagonist runs off on a quest.

A genre that would be more conducive to showing us happy everyday life would be lighter, more domestic novels, like Little Women or Jane Austen. However, they don't really show the universe, because they were written in what was then the present, so the authors didn't focus on creating the universe with historical details because all those details were obvious at the time. So I guess a way to create the kind of historical fiction that makes me happy would be to rework these old novels in the form of historical novels, written for an audience who is unfamiliar with the details of the era. So then we could enjoy the universe, and we'd also get a plot that doesn't involve completely turning the universe upsidown. I guess that's why I tend to prefer movies of these older books. They have to create the universe rather than taking it as a given, so I get to immerse myself in the world even though that wasn't the author's original intent.

Things They Should Invent: a better way of folding fitted sheets

Fitted sheets are not rectangular, but all the ways I can find to fold them are based on trying to force them to act like rectangles. Someone should really come up with a way to fold them that takes into account their unique nature, but still enables them to fit into the linen closet. No, I don't have any suggestions or insight.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Another reason to treat detainees humanely

Remember in March 2003, when the US first started invading Iraq and you could turn on the TV and "watch war"? Remember how they were reporting that huge numbers of Iraqi soldiers were just outright surrendering? I don't know if this was true or not - I never heard much follow-up after that, and it is the sort of thing that makes for good propoganda - but the reporting made it sound like at the first sight of American military the Iraqi soldiers were waving white flags, to deliberately escape from whatever kind of hellhole the Iraqi military was. Upon hearing this mentioned several times, I turned to my father (I was at my parents' house that weekend) and said "So if this is true, that means that being a US prisoner of war is significantly better than being a free Iraqi soldier."

Obviously, I hadn't yet heard of Abu Ghraib.

This memory came back to me the other day, when the radio was talking about how people taken prisoner by Canadians in Afghanistan are treated. It occurs to me that, apart from the fact that we should be better than that, and apart from the fact that torturing our prisoners invites people to torture are citizens, and apart from the fact that it's ineffective anyway, and apart from basic human decency, this is another reason why we should treat our prisoners humanely.

Imagine if everyone, everyone in the world, knew that if they surrendered to or were arrested by a Canadian soldier, they would be put somewhere that's clean and sanitary, with sufficient food and health care, and they absolutely would not be beaten, raped, or tortured.

Clearly, the pragmatic decision would be to surrender, or to go quietly if you get arrested. Obviously some people aren't going to go along with this, but that would be out of ideology, not out of self-preservation. If our prisoners can get tortured, that gives people the motivation to do everything possible to avoid being taken prisoner, lest the unspeakable happen. Now if they didn't have this motivation to do everything possible to evade our troops, imagine how much easier that would make our military's job. Some people are still going to fight them because there is ideology and even fanticism involved, but others will have far greater motivation to go along quietly, or to surrender, or even just to treat our troops with a grudging respect. Imagine a situation where those rivers of surrendering enemy soliders - whether they were real or a creation of propganda - were unquestionably making the best decision for themselves and for their families. Wouldn't that make things better for everyone?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Money, status, and age

Sure, everyone wants to earn a living - but it turns out that with age comes a realization for many that status and money are not as important as knowing they somehow made a difference.

It sounds like they're saying that when you're young and foolish you think money and status are important, but when you get older and wiser you realize that they never were important.

I wonder if this really is the case? It occurs to me that perhaps acquiring more money and status become less important as you get older because by then you have earned or saved enough of each to live on in the long term.

I know first-hand it's quite easy to say that money doesn't matter when you have some. It's just that I tend to hear these sentiments coming the loudest from people who are resting on their laurels and collecting their indexed pensions. I somehow doubt they're looking back and saying "Wow, I wish I hadn't spent all that time in my youth building up financial security and a respected standing in the community!"

I just think people who are inclined to say that money doesn't matter need to keep that in mind. It's one thing to say "When I was young, it was more important to me to acquire money and status. But now I have enough of each and I can focus on other things." But it's quite another thing to go to someone who's in a place in their life where acquiring money and status are important, and try to convince them that these things aren't important for them just because they aren't important for you.

The litmus test: Thing back to the time one year before you got your first grownup job, however you choose to define "grownup job" to apply to your own life. How would you feel if your financial situation and social status now were no better than they were then?

How roommates would affect my ecological footprint

The Globe and Mail proposesthat people living alone are "an environmental time bomb."

This seemed off to me, so I calculated myecological footprint. Here are the results it gave for me living alone (I apologize for the all-caps, but it came that way. The bolding is my own):


FOOD 1.8








Then I recalculated for if I lived in a household of six people. I kept all other variables the same, just changed the number of people:


FOOD 1.8








"But six is really a bit much," you're saying. Okay, so let's do it for a household of two:


FOOD 1.8








As you can see, the difference is really negligible. Already I'm only occupying about 1/3 of the average footprint. If I increased my household size to six, my footprint would shrink by only 0.8 hectares, which is only 9% of the average footprint in the country.

And that's with changing only the number of people - none of the other variables were touched. So that means I'm cramming six people into this 500 square foot, one-bedroom one-bathroom apartment. For a savings of only 9% of the national average. That hardly seems worth it, especially since I'm already 70% below the national average to start with!

But what if we did something more realistic. I have no idea how much space you'd need for six people, so I redid the calculations for 2 people in an 80-square-foot apartment. Why? Because that's the smallest apartment in this building that I think I could share happily with mi cielito. We're both introverts who need our space.


FOOD 1.8








Not only is this higher than for if the two people lived in the 500 square foot apartment, but it's also higher than for my rating living alone. So it looks like the "problem", if there is one, isn't that people live alone, but that people who can afford to do so live with the amount of privacy we expect in our society.

But you know what? I'm not giving up my privacy. My privacy is the single greatest joy my home gives me. I'm childfree, carfree, vegetarian, and paying higher than average rent to live in a building with l33t new environmental features; and my ecological footprint reflects all that. I've done my part. If you want me to give up my privacy, work on getting everyone else's environmental footprints down low enough that mine even begins to approach the national average. Then we'll talk.

Anyone out there watch Ugly Betty?

Is Wilhelmina aware that Claire owns Mode, not Bradford? If not, why hasn't anyone told her? If so, why is she sleeping with Bradford?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Renting and home improvements

I'm just posting this because I can finally articulate something I wish I'd been able to explain earlier.

Many of the homeowners in my life don't understand why I'm so hesitant to do home repairs or upgrades. They have also been known to complain about their renting neighbours not maintaining their homes. These two things come down to one main issue that many (or at least the loudest of) homeowners don't seem to be able to grasp and that I wish I'd been able to articulate earlier:

Most maintenance falls under the homeowner's jurisdiction, but is outside the tenant's jurisdiction.

If you own a house and you want to install a lighting fixture, go ahead. You mess up, the worst thing that happens (short of hurting yourself) is you've hurt your property and you have to spend some money to hire a professional to fix it. However, if you rent and want to install a lighting fixture and mess up, you hurt someone else's property, and you can't hire a professional to fix it because contractors require the landlord's permission. So not only have you hurt someone else's property, but you've inconvenienced them to get it fixed.

If your house is drafty and poorly insulated, you can totally put in insulation or hire someone to put in insulation. This falls entirely within your jurisdiction and it is your right. But if your apartment is drafty and poorly insulated, you have to live with it. It is completely outside your jurisdiction to go around opening up the walls.

If you own a house and it needs painting, you can paint it. If you rent a house and it needs painting, that's the landlord's responsibility. If you want to paint it anyway, you need permission and maybe you'll also need to paint it back when you move out.

Basically, if I want to try something new on property that I own, all I need to do is be reasonably sure that I can attempt the process without killing myself. But if I want to try something new on property that I rent, I need to be 100% certain that I can get it back to mint condition before I move out. This is why I'm willing to install a new showerhead, but not to take risks with wiring.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bad layout of the day

Doesn't this make it look like Boris Yeltsin is the TTC worker who was killed?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Bloor line workaround doesn't work today!

I've long been an advocate of taking the subway down to Bloor rather than using a bus to cross between the Yonge and U-S lines. But don't try that today! Subway traffic is SO slow south of Eglinton because they have to keep turning the trains!

However, if you want to cross at Sheppard, take the York University Rocket (not the Sheppard bus).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The ethics of newspaper delivery

Apparently if you subscribe to the Toronto Star and you don't get a newspaper and you report this and ask them to credit your account, they'll deduct $5 from the carrier's pay. This blog mentioned it, and someone (who I don't know very well, but would be in a position to know) told me so IRL.

This seems wrong, especially considering that the paper costs like $1 each in store, and the Star seems so eager to sell me subscriptions at under $1 a week.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I am a high school graduate

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

I have no idea what that immaculate conception question was doing there though. It seems a bit esoteric and unnecessary, even if you take into accoutnt the possibility of a Catholic education.

Least memorable book ever

Just before I moved, I finished a book of short stories. I wanted to blog about it because I'm really trying to get back in the habit of blogging what I read, but I can't remember the title! Or the author! Or the contents of the stories! I think there was some adultery, and maybe a yoga class, and maybe an old man, but I'm not entirely certain.

So obviously they weren't terribly memorable stories. Unfortunately I can't even tell you the name or author so you can avoid them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How to photograph your puppy

If you're photographing a puppy (or anything else that's cute because it's small), pose it with some everyday object so people can get an idea of scale. For example, I thought that this puppy was cute, but didn't realize how small she was because she's shaped basically like a grownup dog. But then I scrolled down and saw the picture with the big yellow dog, and then the picture further down with the blue chair, and went "OOOH!" in a strange squeaky voice because she's so much smaller than I originally thought.

So use props to show just how adorably little your adorably little photography subject is.

Really. It's a rule.

Emerald Movers & Storage

The moving company I ended up hiring was Emerald Movers & Storage, and I was quite happy with their work. The receptionist was very reassuring, knew who I was when I called, and was able to answer all my questions. The movers showed up on time, and were quick, efficient, strong, competent, and all business. They walked in and immediately started moving my boxes to the elevator. They wrapped up all my furniture in protective padding, and everything came out on the other side perfectly intact. Then they drove over to the new building and put everything back just as efficiently, taking all their padding and wrapping away with them. They required no supervision except for instructions on where to put stuff in the new apartment. They also behaved with complete propriety at all times. My mother was there most of the time, but at one point I was alone in an elevator with these two extremely tall and strong men, (I had to look up at them, and I don't normally have to look up at people), and I was not at all uncomfortable. The move came in under time and under estimate (although I think they overestimated the estimate for that very reason). It took a total of three hours to move my 500 square foot one-bedroom apartment a very short distance.

Now, if you're doing your research on Emerald, you might encounter a few things that could be interpreted as red flags. First, they point potential clients to where they have many positive reviews.* However, they have so many more positive reviews than any of the companies, so it really comes across as fake. I can't vouch for the accuracy or inaccuracy of these reviews, but they are consistent with my experience. (This is why I choose to review here, in an independent medium where you can see that I am, in fact, an individual.) Second, they are not a member of the Canadian Association of Movers. I asked the guy who gave me my estimate about this (he also ended up being one of the actual movers - I don't know if this is normal practice or not) and he didn't have an answer for me right away, but he did call me back the next business day with the explanation that CAM is geared more towards large moving companies and Emerald is small. Again, I cannot vouch for the accuracy or inaccuracy of this statement, but I have no reason to believe it's false, and the question was handled in a way that was consistant with perfect transparency. Thirdly, the truck they used didn't say "Emerald" on it, it was from Penske truck rental. I didn't get a chance to get a full explanation of this. I don't know whether or not it's normal practice, I did notice that they don't have any trucks on their website, but my move did go perfectly smoothly despite the fact that the truck didn't have the moving company's name on it.

Rereading this post, I just realized that, by saying that they were competent and did their job as expected, I may come across as damning them with faint praise. That is not my intention. It's just that I've heard so many horror stories about movers that I'm extremely happy that everything went smoothly. I can't say that Emerald went above and beyond for me, but it's not like they had the opportunity, because my move was extremely simple as moves go (if I had muscles and a car, I would have done it myself). As it was, nothing whatsoever went wrong, so I'm happy.

I would recommend Emerald without hesitation, and, as a youngish woman living alone, I would not be uncomfortable hiring these guys even if there couldn't be anyone else present on moving day.

*Edited to add: a couple weeks after my move, I received an email from Emerald thanking me for my business and suggesting that I review them on Homestars. So that's probably why they have so many more reviews than everyone else - because they actively point their clients there.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cervical cancer vaccine acquired (at age 26)

Despite the fact that I'm too old, my doctor has consented to administer the HPV vaccine!

I was in her office for a scheduled appointment for another matter when I asked her whether there was any possibility of giving me the vaccine. She said we'd need to schedule another appointment to discuss my risk factors, so I did so. That appointment was today. She asked me about whether I've had abnormal pap smears and about my sexual history, and in light of the information acquired there said that she could allow me to have it. Then she brought up the fact that my future risk of acquiring HPV is low, so is the vaccine really necessary. I asked what specific risks there were to taking this vaccine, and she said that there were none that they know of (apart from the usual potential for your body reacting to the vaccine) but long-term effects are still unknown. She didn't have anything specific to warn me about and didn't seem to be trying to dissuade me, she just seemed to be making sure I had all the information. It felt like she was leaving the decision up to me.

So I decided to do it, she gave me the prescription, and I will be getting my first shot in early May.

I'm not going into detail about my personal risk factors, because I don't know how different risk factors would affect one's chances of getting the vaccine. That's really something to talk to your doctor about.

So how do you get in to talk to your doctor? (If you haven't been following my saga, that was the first problem - I'd been trying since last August but couldn't get past the receptionist because she'd never heard of it.) If you're having the same problems as me, don't ask the receptionist about the HPV vaccine or Gardasil or the cervical cancer vaccine, just get into the doctor's examining room by whatever means necessary, and then ask the doctor there. I know it's considered necessary to tell the receptionist why you need the appointment, but if that doesn't work the receptionist's attitude isn't necessarily the same as the doctor's. I was just completely unprepared for the receptionist not knowing what I was talking about and then limiting her actions based on her own knowledge.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The move went successfully, despite my ridiculous exhaustion. (Lesson learned: take nyquill before bed the night before you move. The showerhead is still in question. Any recommendations for specific hand-held showerheads with good water pressure?

More later, including a full review of the moving company.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

freaking out

i'm surrounded by boxes and i hate it.

the water pressure in my new shower needs viagra. i'm particularly pissed since the leasing agents assured (sp???) me that there's good water pressure on every single floor and there's no need to worry about the details of construction because construction is so very very l33t that there's good water pressure on ever floor, and now the water pressure int he shower sucks. in a paricularly painful bit of irony, the water pressure in the sink and the kitchen are both fine, it's just the shower that needs viagra. I was so very very confident that the new apartment is better and that's why it's worth all this trouble and then the water pressure sucks and long hot showers are part of my raison d'etre so i don't know what to do now. Plus I saw an air conditioning truck outside the building today which make me nervous that the a/c doesn't work because the whole building is a greenhouse without the a/c. If it's not as better as i thought, especially at the prices I'm paying, I think I'm going to cry.

Anyone know any brands of handheld showerheads that give you like major major intense water pressure?

Also, I diligently finished off a bottle of wine tonight (since, like, it's heavy and breakable and liquid and it's good to use up bottles instead of moving them) so if I sent you any emails tonight it might not make sense and that's why.

I just want it to be over. Hopefully by this time tomorrow I will be and I'll be sleeping the sleep of the physically exhausted in my own bed in my brand new apartment.

I don't know how people ever manage to move huge distances or plan weddings or anything like that. Moving this ridiculously short distance is stressful enough for me.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ineffective ads

There was a blurb in the Toronto Star about new ads to raise awareness of violence against women. They're supposed to be attention- grabbing.

Problem: I skimmed right over it without paying attention.

Why? Because the graphics of the ad look similar to the graphics of ads for dance or theatre performance or art exhibits - the kinds of ads you see in the Weekend Review section of the Globe and Mail. The word "Abuse" is in similar position, font, and size to the name of the performance or art work, the statistics are laid out similarly to the review blurbs, and the green bar at the bottom is similar to the information about where the piece is playing and how to buy tickets.

I don't know if this was all intentional, but when I saw the picture without reading it, my brain processed it as an ad for performance or art. And I'm not interested in seeing a play or dance piece or art exhibit about a beaten-up pregnant woman, so I ignored it. It wasn't until the third or fourth time my eye passed over it that it occurred to me that it was an article in the newspaper, not an ad.

I don't think it's very attention-getting to make an ad look like a different kind of ad.

How much does marijuana cost?

Apparently the federal government is charging patients a 1500% markup for medicinal marijuana. The prices they cite are $150 for a 30g bag.

Anyone know how this compares with street prices for recreational use? I have no frame of reference, but I think that would be a useful comparison.

Feel free to comment anonymously if you prefer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Leaky lets you record you predictions for Book 7, so I have done so. Note: I suck at literary analysis, and my predictions reflect that.

Civil unions

So apparently in New Jersey they legalized "civil union" for same-sex couples but refused to call it marriage. And then same-sex couples with civil unions (we really need a more concise way to say that) have had trouble sharing spousal benefits with their partners.

Has anyone heard anything about people having similar problems here after they legalized same-sex marriage in 2003? I never heard anything either way, but I don't know that many same-sex married couples and those I do know aren't close enough for me to bring this up in conversation. It seems to me that at least some people and/or computers would have problems with it initially - I mean it would be way cool if everyone in Ontario just reacted with complete business-like sangfroid when Mike came into HR to put his husband on his insurance, but there are some people out there who really have trouble with the concept. But I didn't hear about anything. Is the word "marriage" really powerful enough to make everything run smoothly? Or did the problems just not make the news here?

Saturday, April 14, 2007


I'm giving six pairs of shoes to charity. "Six pairs!" you're thinking. "Shoe whore!" you're thinking. "Obviously your feet can't be as hard to fit as you say they are," you're thinking, "if you have six extra pairs of shoes to give away!"

But it's not that these are extraneous pairs of shoes that are the result of consumerist impulse purchases. Rather, it's that they've been superseded. The flat black Mary Janes were replaced with a significantly more comfortable pair of flat black Mary Janes. The black ankle boots were replaced with a pair of black ankle boots that was taller and unlined. The black sandals were replaced with a more comfortable pair of black sandals that is also less unfashionable. The brown hiking boots that are from 1994 and look it were replaced by a pair of brown sneakers that's from 2006 and looks it. I've been wearing the same shoe size for about 15 years, and while every pair of shoes I've purchased was the best possible option at the time I bought it, but a better option turned up in later years.

Things They Should Invent: realistic supervision in children's books

When I was a kid, I read a lot of children's and young adult books. But the kids in those books always seemed to have way more freedom than me. Despite the fact that they lived in the suburbs, they could get places by walking or biking. They could have adventures or romances after school, because they never seemed to have to take a schoolbus, or to have parents who would worry if they were home 20 minutes late. They could go over to a friend's house without asking permission (or, if they did ask permission, the answer would always be yes), they could have private conversations on the telephone without being overheard, they could poke around in the attic without the parents coming and asking why they're poking around in the attic, and they could sneak out of the house without getting caught. They could babysit at 13 or easily get any other job the plot required them to. When their parents went out to do boring grownup stuff, they always left the kids at home alone so the kids could forward the plot unsupervised. None of this rang true in my own life, and it was very frustrating to me that my life at age 8/11/13/16 was never as free as that of the protagonists in my books.

While I can understand why the author would do this for plot purposes, I think it would be very interesting to see children's/YA books where the kids are fully supervised. They have to take the schoolbus to and from school, they have to get a ride to go anywhere else, they always have parental supervision when at home or when going out in public, their parents forbid them from going over to a friend's house if the friend's parents won't be there, parents can tell approximately where everyone is and what they're doing in their own home (you can usually do this if you've lived in a house for several years, unless the it's a particularly large or especially well soundproofed house), the parents sometimes make plans for the kids that prevent the kids from doing what they want to do at that particular time, and if the kids bend or break the rules they get caught a reasonable amount of time, with corresponding loss of parental trust. Then take all these limitations, and create a decent plot within them.

You know you're a langling when...

Last week, I diligently packed up all my books, CDs, and DVDs in boxes, so I could feel all productive and self-satisfied. Ever since then, I've been missing my dictionaries! I keep thinking of things I want to look up, and I can't because they're all in the bottom of a box somewhere. These aren't important things or work-related things, I'm not in a situation where there's any immediate need to communicate something in another language. I just keep thinking of things that I'd like to look up.

For example, I once coined the phrase "el mambo abrir la puerta" for the little hip-swivelling thing you do to open the door hands-free when you're wearing a security pass on your belt. Just now, it occurred to me that it might be better to use a noun form of abrir, parallel to "de l'ouverture de la porte" (as opposed to "ouvrir la porte"). But I forget how to noun verbs in Spanish (I know, I know, but I only have two years of Spanish and that was five years ago.) Normally I'd reach for the dictionary, look it up, and get on with my life. But it's not quite worth unpacking a whole box for.

And I do this at least twice a day! I never realized how dependent on my dictionaries I am!

Friday, April 13, 2007

A story about a donkey

Read this!

It's a story about a donkey. And I was on the edge of my seat the entire time! Now THAT'S writing!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New Rule: interest rate assumptions

Often when people are talking about or writing articles about financial planning, they blithely assume that you can earn interest at rates that seem unrealistically high to me. This harms the credibility of everything they say - why would I take investment advice from someone who assumes I can just wander in and get 20% interest?

So here's an exercise to make sure your interest rate assumptions are reasonable.

You: " if you invested that at X% interest..."
Me: "Okay, suppose I gave you my life's savings to invest, and we signed an airtight, no-loopholes, no escape contract for you to give me (X-1)% of the principal every year. You can keep any extra interest you earn, but you have to give me (X-1)% every year even if you don't earn that much. Would you accept that agreement?"

If the answer is yes, then you can go ahead and use that interest rate example. If the answer is no, choose a lower rate. If the answer is yes only because you are so freaking rich that you could easily absorb the yearly loss of (X-1)% of my life's savings, add another zero or two to the amount of my life's savings and try again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"I'm not a racist"

First Michael Richards, and then some US radio guy I've never heard of. They publicly make racist remarks, and then when they're called on it say (entre autres) "I'm not a racist."

But you know what? If you're not racist, those thoughts don't even occur to you. Really. They just aren't in your active vocabulary. When your brain reaches for something to say, even in anger, they aren't in the pool of things to choose from.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kudos to Sympatico

One of the signing bonuses I got for signing my lease before the building was built is a year's free telecommunications from Rogers, so obviously I'm not going to keep my current services. Today I called Sympatico to cancel my account, and after they learned that I was cancelling because I got a year's free service, and because I've been with them for four years (apparently that's a lot of seniority), they offered to suspend my account for a year at no charge and then top whatever Roger's charges me once my free year is up. I didn't even have to ask them for this, they offered it proactively.

This is essentially the best possible offer they could have made me, and I really appreciate that the first person I talked to was empowered to do this.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Scholarship idea

For the past five years I've had an idea in my head for a scholarship that I'd start if I ever had the money, or perhaps that I'd will to my alma mater. It just occurred to me now that if I offered the idea up for free, someone richer than me might launch the same scholarship far sooner than I'll ever be able to. So here it is, feel free to take it. I intended it for Translation students, but feel free to use it in your own field if you prefer:

Offer a scholarship for one or more students doing an unpaid internship. The scholarship will be equal to the amount that they would be getting if they were doing a paid internship. (Or, if there's no such thing as a paid internship in your field, for a decent living wage.)

In my experience, an internship - a work placement - is the most valuable educational experience, far more valuable than classroom work. It sucks when people don't get to enjoy this opportunity because they need to spend the summer earning money instead. I hope if I ever become rich I can work to remedy this situation, and I hope that if any rich people stumble upon my blog they might be inspired to do the same.

Pre-emptive Harry Potter sighting

So by your account Harold Potter was a perfectly ordinary Englishman without any tendency towards being a Scotsman whatsoever?

The Right Clothes and The Wrong Clothes

A topic that seems to have come up in several completely unrelated conversations I've had lately is kids and The Right Clothes or The Wrong Clothes. As we all know, because we all have been (or, if there are any kids reading this, are) kids, during certain stages of life, wearing The Wrong Clothes is social suicide. We also know that some parents can't afford to buy their kids The Right Clothes. But we also know that there are other kids who aren't wearing The Right Clothes, either because they don't want to, or because they aren't aware of which clothes are Right, or because their parents won't buy it for them.

It's the latter situation that I wish to address here.

I've heard three arguments in support of parents who can afford The Right Clothes refusing to buy said clothes for their kids:

1. There are other, less expensive clothes available, and I want my kid to learn the value of frugality.
2. I want my kid to learn not to give in to peer pressure.
3. My kid could have chosen The Right Clothes when we did our back to school clothes shopping. They did not. They must now learn to live with the consequences of their decision. (This one obviously applies to cases where The Wrong Clothes turned out to be those of the kid's choosing.)

And all these three arguments also have the underlying fact that some kids can't afford The Right Clothes at all, and it isn't right for them to be socially ostracized simply because their parents happen to be poor.

I actually agree with all these statements. However, I think there's one thing parents need to think about (and, again, I'm still talking about parents who can afford The Right Clothes): Will refusing to buy The Right Clothes actually help my kid learn the intended lesson?

If you have your kid wearing cheaper clothes even though they're Wrong, will that teach them the lesson of frugality? Or will it just teach them that if their clothes are cheap they'll get tormented?

If you have your kid wearing The Wrong Clothes will that teach them not to give in to peer pressure? Or will it just teach them that if they'd only give in to peer pressure, they wouldn't be tormented?

If your kid picked out The Wrong Clothes and is now being tormented for it, will that teach them to make better decisions? Or did they pick out The Wrong Clothes because they didn't no any better, so it teaches them that their parents are just as cruel and punitive as their classmates?

And, in all cases, will not buying your kids The Right Clothes improve the lot of their poorer classmates?

If you buy your kids The Right Clothes, I can see two possible outcomes: a) it makes their social lives better, or b) it doesn't. If it's b), I think that would teach any of the above lessons better than refusing them the clothes, leaving them to think about what might have been. If it's a), then you get to see whether or not your kid continues to have empathy for their classmates who are now below them on the social scale. If they cease to have empathy for their classmates with The Wrong Clothes, then you have a perfectly good reason to not buy them The Right Clothes in the future. If they do have empathy for their classmates with The Wrong Clothes, then they can leverage their new social position to improve their classmates' lot, and the entire social circle benefits.

Things They Should Invent roundup

I've come up with quite a few inventions in the past few days:

1. Pagers for the doctor's office. You know how sometimes at mall restaurants they'll give you a pager and buzz you when a table is free? I'd like doctor's offices to do that when they're running late. The other day I spent a whole hour sitting in my doctor's waiting room, only a block away from my apartment. I would have been far less cranky if I could have spent that hour at home. I know they don't like to have the doctor waiting around in between patients, so they could page you when the person before you goes in, which should give you plenty of time to get back to the office.

2. The option to listen to someone's voicemail's outgoing message without ringing their phone. Sometimes I just want to know a business's hours, but I don't need or want to speak to anyone. So usually I wait until I can reasonably assume that they're closed, and then call them to listen to their outgoing voicemail. But that still leave my number on their call display, plus I might end up in the awkward situation of having someone answer - or, worse, having someone answer even if they're closed. Some voicemail systems allow you to leave a message without ringing the phone, so why not allow you to listen to the outgoing message without ringing the phone?

3. Automatic TV rerun scheduler. Suppose you've seen some, but not all, episodes of The Simpsons, or Seinfeld, or some other TV series with frequent reruns on many channels. Wouldn't it be cool if you could go to some central website, check off a checklist of episodes you have (or haven't) seen, and it would tell you when the episodes you haven't seen are going to air?

4. Tell me if household products are bad for bugs. I was considering switching floor cleaning products, so I asked a friend if she had ever used the product I was thinking of using. She said she had, but she switched away from it because she had read that it might be bad for her pets. Now I don't have any pets at the moment, so that isn't a problem for me. But if it's bad for household pets, is it also bad for bugs? I would love to use a floor cleaner that's poisonous to bugs! If I could make my home less inviting to bugs simply by switching cleaning products, bring it on! They have the science to determine whether products are bad for pets, so why not extend that to tell us if it's bad for bugs? They could even use that as a bonus in advertising, as long as they don't show pictures of bugs.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The problem with continuous learning

Conventional wisdom is that you have to be learning continuously, constantly acquiring new skills.

The problem with that is no one tells you what you need to be learning.

I'm improving my translation skills constantly by translating, but I've just never stumbled upon anything where I thought "You know, it would be helpful if I could take a course on that." I do employer-mandated training like WHMIS, but I just never come upon anything that I'd like to improve that can be taught in the classroom.

I'm the kind of person who can pick up new software very easily - I don't actually require classroom training to use new software - but that's very difficult to do when you can't actually think of anything to use the software for. For example, I have Photoshop. But I can't use it because I've never had to use it for anything except converting images. Some people improve their photoshop skills recreationally à la Worth 1000, but my creativity simply does not inspire me in that direction. It has never in my life occurred to me "Hey, someone should photoshop [idea]!" So I doubt I'm going to pick up any new software skills until I find the need or want to use any new software.

I would happily take any course my boss told me to, except that she doesn't, she usually just tells me to pick some courses that I'm interested in (and I'm not). I'd be happy to take a course if something occurred to me "Hey, I'd like to learn that," but nothing has so far. I'll happily learn any new software, but there isn't any I need or am actively interested in doing that requires new software.

I wonder if this means I'm getting old and set in my ways?

Thought experiment

What is your favourite ________?

Fill in the blank with anything you want, anything you can think of. Food, drink, band, TV show, cheese, yoga position, shampoo, whatever. Just answer the question as you would normally:

What is your favourite ________?

Got the answer? Good.

Now another question:

If you could only use one ________ for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

(Replace the verb "use" with a more appropriate verb if necessary, e.g. eat, drink, watch, listen to - whatever goes best with the noun in the blank)

Are the answers the same?

Try with something else in the blank. Are the answers still the same?

For me, sometimes they are the same, sometimes they aren't. That's really weird.


The City of Toronto recently had an idea of issuing each household a small garbage bin, and charging them more money if they want a larger one. There are several problems with this plan, but the one I haven't seen mentioned yet is: what happens under exceptional circumstances that generate far more garbage than usual?

I generate very little garbage. Probably one big green bag a month, including organics. However, as I prepare to move, I find myself having to throw out quite a few largish things that can't be recycled or donated to charity. My old olive green pots and pans (originally my father's from his first apartment in the early 70s), whose non-stick is coming off. The original keyboard from my first computer, whose M key doesn't work. Hopelessly stained clothing that charities won't accept. Basically four years worth of stuff that I held on to because they aren't 100% useless (I am, after all, the child of an immigrant) but that I'm ultimately not going to use ever again. This is a one-time increase in my household garbage and probably won't happen again for another several years. It doesn't mean I need a larger bin 100% of the time, but I would need more for one garbage collection. Does this plan take these kinds of things into account?

I've been spending some time lurking around web communities devoted to frugality and waste reduction, in the hopes of finding leads on places where I can donate or recycle these kinds of bulky useless items. One surprising idea that kept coming up was to make craft projects out of stuff. I'm sorry, but I don't think this counts. I have all these old clothes that are too stained to donate. If I make, say, rag dolls out of them, then I'd have a bunch of rag dolls. But I don't need rag dolls. I couldn't donate or regift the rag dolls because they're made out of old stained clothes - you don't give a child a doll with your stains on it! I have no use for rag dolls in my home. It doesn't contribute to the decor - it's not like I look around and say "You know what this place really needs? Some rag dolls!" So while, technically, I have reused my useless old clothes, reusing being a frugal and environmentally friendly act, I don't actually get any points for it. I've just turned one useless thing into another useless thing that looks slightly less like garbage. I think craft projects should only count if the end product fills a need that you would have had to fill even if you didn't have the items you were making the craft out of. In other words, my hypothetical rag doll project would count only if, had I not had all these old stained clothes on hand, I would have had to go buy rag dolls or rags to make dolls out of.

I think the problem with society in general is that not generating waste is a virtue, frugally saving things until you can reuse them is a virtue, but being clutter-free is also a virtue.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Open Letter to Salon

Dear Salon:

With your new letters policy, you've lost me as a commenter. It seems you valued me as a commenter, given that about half my letters got red stars (which seems significant in light of the fact that your policy is to favour signed letters). That's probably because I comment only when I seem to be the only one who has thought to say what I have to say.

Given the combination of the size of your readership, and the hatefulness of certain parts of your readership, and the fact that every comment I have to make that's worth making is either highly personal or highly political, and the fact that I must retain a certain anonymity WRT my real-life identity for the sake of my loved ones, and the fact that I must maintain the impression of a certain political neutrality WRT my real-life identity for professional purposes, and the fact that if you collected together all my comments it really would show a lot of myself, I'm just not comfortable with that.

I censor myself a lot when I'm posting under a consistent identity - yes, even here, yes, even in other online communities. I wasn't censoring myself that much in the Salon comments in order to produce unique and insightful comments. If I do censor myself as much as necessary, what I can permit myself to say there wouldn't be worth saying.

Yes, I have this blog, but I only get 10-20 hits a day (mostly from people googling for pictures I once linked to), plus I don't seem to get that many nasty trolls. There are more nasty trolls in a single Salon letters page than I've gotten in the entire history of this blog. I'm just not up for exposing myself to them under any consistent identity.

PS: On top of all this, I have also noticed that the most annoying posters do use consistent handles.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Salon writes about the recently-found Gospel of Judas.

My first thought: that is almost exactly the character arc of Snape!

But if Snape's Judas, that makes Dumbledore the messiah. So what does that make Harry?

April Fool's joke, free for the taking

Scott Adams asked his readers to submit April Fool's jokes.

Inspired by some of the readers' suggestions about how to fuck with other people's computers, I have a harmless but effective joke. It will be immediately noticeable to the victim, but it won't hurt anything or cause significant delay, and the victim will be able to remedy the situation themselves.

On the victim's keyboard, move the little cover things on the F and J keys one line up. Make sure to keep them in the same row and with two spaces in between them.

As you know, the F and J keys have those little sticky-up things on them to show touch typists where to put their fingers. So if your victim is a touch typist, they'll start typing with their fingers on the wrong keys qhe 3f3465y8ht 28oo d9j3 975 o8i3 5y8wl.