Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beauty products are not the enemy

This surprises me.

First of all, I'm surprised at the assumption that media and advertising are key in making people feel dissatisfied with their looks. the media has never been a huge factor in my feeling unattractive. I didn't need advertising to look in the mirror and see that the skin around my eyes is dark (exactly like Emperor Popeatine's - yes, even in childhood) and no one else has that. I didn't need the advertising to see that I have more and darker hair on my face and body than any other female around me and, until high school, any of my male peers. I didn't need advertising to be mistaken for a boy by random grownups when my hair was short. I didn't need advertising to know that J.K. Rowling's unflattering description of Snape's physical appearance is also an accurate description of my physical appearance. Anything in the media simply reiterated what I saw with my own eyes every day (and what my peers were only too happy to remind me of on the playground).

Secondly, I'm surprised to see use of beauty products presented as a bad thing, because to me it's been a huge boost to my self esteem. I'll never forget my Grade 8 grad photo. My mother allowed me, for the first time in my life, to wear a bit of makeup. Just concealer and lip gloss. I plucked my eyebrows and bleached my mustache. It was also the first photo I'd ever had done that was retouched. The dark under my eyes was neutralized, my zits were erased, I had two discrete eyebrows and no sign of facial hair. I looked like a perfectly decent-looking human being - and a female human being at that!. Inspired, I continued using concealer and began to introduce other makeup and beauty products. And as I gained control over my unattractive features, I ceased to identify with them. As I mastered covering the dark circles under my eyes, I stopped thinking of my eyes as dark and hollow and evil-looking, and began to think of them as green, well-lashed, and capable of shining or glaring or smouldering. When I started bleaching my teeth I stopped thinking of my smile as yellow and hideous, and started realizing that my natural smile is actually quite beautiful, and can charm or disarm or put people at ease or even successfully flirt. When I got hair stuff that actually keeps my oil under control for over 24 hours (even if there's headbanging involved), I stopped thinking of my hair as oily and gross, and started to see that it's soft and silky and just needs to be washed every day, just like the rest of me. The more control I gain over my physical flaws, the more I see myself as more than a collection of physical flaws. Nothing shows that the physical is ephemeral better than editing the physical using everyday drugstore products.

Third, I'm surprised at the anti-photoshopping sentiment. We all know that it's done, we all know how it's done. And I don't know about you guys, but that's done wonders for my self-esteem. Fifteen years ago, I was thinking "I'll never look like that." Twelve years ago, I was thinking "Maybe with makeup I could possibly look like that." Now I'm thinking "I could totally be photoshopped to look like that, no problem!"

And finally, I'm surprised at the sentiment that spending time and resources on beauty is taking time and resources away from other, apparently more worthy things. First of all, we all do this. It shouldn't need explaining. We all maintain careers and social lives and households and political awareness and hobbies and interests and a decent level of being well-informed, and we all do whatever beauty routine we think is most suitable. Your hair appointment doesn't take away from your self-actualization, so why would you assume the same of a kid? Besides, most beauty routines are physical and mindless - like painting a wall or chopping up vegetables - which leaves all the best parts of your brain open to intellectual work. I'm sure I'm not the only one reading and writing while my nails dry and my arms bleach or doing some of my best creative thinking while I shave and exfoliate.

To me, beauty products are a tool that I use to assert control over my body, to express and present as my real self rather than the sum of my genetics. They allowed me to assert my independence from and ultimately conquer the sources of my self-loathing. If people are starting to achieve this at a younger age, more power to them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blast from the past

Latest iTunes rediscovery:

1. Those girls got pipes! Not just vocally, but in their arms as well! I didn't know women did weight training in that era, like at all.

2. Looking at this song from an adult perspective (I first met it as a child and hadn't really re-thought it), it's totally for driving home the morning after what was originally intended to be a one night stand but may be something more. Yeah, sure, the lyrics are more innocent, but it's totally post-coital euphoria.

Things They Should Invent: standard nonaggressive nonjudgemental way of asking other people in the subway to give up their seat for a third party

Sometimes you're on the subway and you see someone standing who should probably have a seat (elderly, disabled, pregnant, etc.) but you can't offer them one because you're standing yourself. You know that there is someone sitting who'd happily give up their seat but hasn't noticed the person in need. However, there is no polite way to do this. It comes across as judgey or lecturing or otherwise none of your business.

We need some socially standardized signal for these situations. It is to be universally construed as neutral and nonjudgemental, and it shouldn't draw undue attention to the specific person in need (e.g. "HEY EVERYONE THERE'S AN OLD LADY WITH A CANE OVER THERE! SEE?") Just some sort of subtle "By the way..."

I don't have any specific ideas but I'm open to suggestions.

Lookit! Lookit!

Baby otters!

Conspiracy theory anyone?

Theory: our government's real motivation in embarrassing us internationally by banning George Galloway from the country is to ultimately create the political will to overturn our hate speech laws by getting everyone running around yelling about freedom of speech.

(Aside: What I'm still trying to figure out is whether British MPs are subject to security screening and required to maintain security clearance. I'm almost certain (like this) that Canadian MPs are. If the UK works the same, then he would have already undergone screening that ensures that he isn't a threat to UK security and can be trusted with state secrets. I know they're a different country, but realistically can there be much of a difference?)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Things They Should Invent: don't say no, name your price instead

Some US-based online retailers won't ship to Canada. At all. Period.

It occurs to me that there must be some amount of money that would make it worth their while to ship to Canada. It's certainly quite feasible to send something from the US to Canada, it's just more bother. Worst case you have to get some worker to stop what they're doing, package the thing individually and separately, take it down to the post office, and fill out some customs forms. There must be some dollar amount that could make up for that bother. Maybe it's prohibitive for most people, but they should at least tell us what it is. Just post on the website: "widgets $10, shipping to Canada $100". Either it won't be worth it to Canadian customers and the business can continue to go about life as usual, or it will be worth it and they'll open up a new market.

This could apply to many other areas of business as well. You ship by UPS? UPS is inconvenient to me. What would it take to ship my purchase by Canada Post or Purolator? Those are your hours? They're incompatible with my schedule. What would it take to get you to stay open an hour later? It would be much better business sense, and if they've researched their markets correctly it won't make any difference in actual operations.


Dude walks into my building walking the most adorable dog ever. Big puppy, floppy ears, white with brown spots including a spot over one eye, so soft and fluffy (two levels fluffier than you're picturing), apparently some kind of collie spaniel mix, but I can't seem to google up a picture.

The lady in front of me stops and squees at the puppy and pets it and asks about it. Then I stop and squee at the puppy and pet it and ask about it (I know the puppy just got stopped, but I couldn't help myself. It took all my self-control not to pick it up.) Then the guy behind me stops and squees at the puppy and pets it and asks about it.

That's three people, just in a walk across the lobby. They probably encountered between 20 and 50 people in their walk, and I'd bet the majority of those people stopped and squeed at the puppy.

I wonder if that gets annoying for the puppy's human? On one hand, he does appreciate the sheer awesomeness of the puppy or he woudn't have chosen it. On the other hand, he does most likely have other things to do with his day and by the time you're on your 20th squeeing idiot it must lose its novelty.


I've been receiving a lot of political propoganda lately assuring me that longer jail sentences have been introduced, so my children will be safe from gang members. That's not quite my top concern at the moment. However, for the benefit of anyone who would like to win my vote, here's a list of anti-social behaviour that I'd like to see strictly penalized:

- Blocking the subway escalator when there is a train actually in the process of arriving.
- Spouting platitudes in situations where they aren't actually helpful.
- Making environmental policy that assumes that everyone has a car.
- Using a flat iron to curl hair. That's just perverted and against nature.
- Posting/forwarding urban legends that have been debunked by Snopes.

Random thoughts from childhood

1. When I was a kid, a lot of the grownups around me assumed that if I was into something, that must necessarily be because it's trendy. Like that the reason I was into it was because it's trendy, and if I'm into it that must be a sign that it's trendy. Strange logic, that. Some of the things I was into were trendy, but others weren't. Like everyone, I'd pick and choose what I liked and what worked for me from everything that crossed my path. I seriously doubt any of the adults were into only trendy things, so why would they assume that I was?

2. When I had to do presentations in front of the class at school, the things the teachers would critique would always include symptoms of my shyness (talking quietly, not making eye contact, playing with my hair and other nervous tics). I know that a confident presentation is better than a messy presentation, but I do wonder if they seriously thought I could speak in front of the class with confidence when I couldn't even sit quietly in the classroom with confidence. I'm fine with the grade itself being lower for a messy presentation, but based on the nature of their comments it seemed like they thought that I could actually carry off a smooth presentation but just...wasn't.

Once in music class we had this assignment where we wrote a page or two about our favourite song and what it means to us. Mine was a song that reflected my feelings at the time (unrequited, of course) for a certain boy, and I wrote a very nice and meaningful blurb. Then, unbeknownst to me in choosing a song, we had to present them in front of the class. And the boy in question was in the class. So I made a stammery, heavily edited presentation, thanking the god I had recently ceased to believe in that I'm physically incapable of blushing. In the comments I got back, the teacher seemed genuinely baffled that my written submission was so good but my presentation was such a mess.

So because of this, I find myself wondering if the teachers were grading ruthlessly objectively, or if it genuinely didn't occur to them that talking in front of the class would be extremely difficult and some people might not have it in them. After all, teachers are people who have chosen to make their living talking in front of a classroom every day, maybe they honestly don't know that some people just can't. (Just like how in unedited and unreflective moments I sometimes find myself thinking "I don't see what the big deal is. Just learn French, it only take a couple of years of intensive study.")

3. Speaking of the classroom, the one thing my resource teachers were always trying to get me to do was raise my hand and answer questions in class. At that time, I knew the answer to literally every question the teacher would ask (because their teaching method was to ask questions about material they'd already covered, not because I'm such a fricking genius) but I never raised my hand because it conflicted with my continuing mission of becoming invisible so the bullies would forget about me. Even now, with adult knowledge and 20/20 hindsight, I can't figure out how raising my hand and answering questions would have been helpful to me. I knew the answer and I knew that I knew the answer. I don't see how it would have made a difference to my education to raise my hand and announce to the class "HERE I AM AND I KNOW THE ANSWER!" I do see how it would be helpful to the teacher who was trying to conduct a class, but I don't see what it would have done for me in terms of my own enrichment.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Things They Should Invent: hair removal method for hairs that aren't there

Every method of hair removal will only remove hairs that are there. So why's this a problem you're asking? Let me give you an example:

I pluck my eyebrows every day. This means that at any given time, there are a bunch of eyebrow hairs that are queued up to grow back, but currently are not visible. If I were to go get my eyebrows done professionally, or I were to go get my stray eyebrow hairs permanently removed, they would only remove the unwanted hairs that they can see. A week later, I'd once again have a bunch of stray eyebrow hairs, because the hairs that were not there when I got my eyebrows done will have grown back. If I want literally all my excess eyebrow hairs removed, I'd have to let my whole shaggy unibrow grow back in, which means I'd have to spend probably a couple of weeks walking around looking butch and undignified.

There must be some kind of thingy inside my skin that tells it "Grow another hair back right here." (I don't have the terminology, but you know what I mean?) I want to be able to take the entire bridge of my nose between my eyebrows and tell all those thingies inside my skin "Don't grow any more hairs here, at all, ever." Or perhaps remove from my skin the thingies that tell it to grow a hair here.

I would pay enormous amounts of money for this.

More information please (Ontario budget edition)

1. What exactly is to be gained by harmonizing the sales taxes? Media coverage implies that there is some widely-known benefit to doing this, but I don't know what it is.

2. Exactly how much of their assets must a person liquidate before they can apply for welfare? Media coverage has mentioned a few times recently that it is recommended that people not be required to liquidate so much, but I don't know what the current amount is. This is important, because I suspect the amount of assets you're allowed to have is much much lower than the average person is aware of. I know (like this) that at one point during my politically-aware lifetime, most likely during the Harris era, you had to sell your home, you had to sell your car, and you couldn't have more than $200 (sic) in the bank. I'm hoping the rules have changed since then, but I have no idea what they are currently. It would be helpful for this to be common knowledge.

Update: The answer to #2 is $572

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things They Should Invent Words For

We need a word for when you're absolutely sure you have some factoid on good authority and you know for certain that somewhere out there is a reputable citable reference to back up this statement, but you can't quite remember where you got it from. For those "Yeah, someone once did a study and I read about it in the newspaper" sort of situations.

This differs from conventional wisdom and urban legends in that you know you did in fact get this from a specific reliable source and once upon a time you could have cited the source (and once upon a time you had the source in your hand or on your computer screen), it's just that some time has passed and you've forgotten.

Weird tax benefit decision

Check out the table here.

Single individuals get $300. Single parents and couples get $1000. Semantically and syntactically, that means all couples, even if they don't have children, and there's nothing in the text to suggest that couples without children are treated differently.

I totally see why parents get a bigger benefit than non-parents. I'm not questioning that at all. But why should a couple without dependents get $1000 when a single individual without dependents only gets $300? The couple is sharing a household, so their per-person necessary living expenses are less and their income would stretch further. But their benefit is greater than the benefit paid to THREE single people. WTF?

How to make a harmonized sales tax as painless as possible

When they harmonize the sales taxes, people are going to notice. Things that were previously taxed at 5% are suddenly going to be taxed at 13%, giving us a shock at the register.

Simple solution: change the rules so that taxes are included in the sticker price. When the sign says "Widgets, $9.99!" that price already includes tax, so we hand over a ten and get back a penny. How much are you paying in tax? Who knows? Who cares? You see the sign, decide if you're willing to pay $9.99, and if yes you pay $9.99. It will be like at the LCBO. Do we pay too much tax on our booze at the LCBO? Who knows? Who cares? The only question is whether we're willing to pay $12.95 for that bottle of wine.

Shopping will be easier because we can easily see how much we'll be spending. Cashiers' lives will be easier because they won't have to face customers with sales tax rage. (More than once when I was doing time behind the cash register I had a customer come in with a coupon for 99 cent coffee, hand me a loonie, and act like I'm trying to cheat them when I told them they owed me another 14 (or whatever it was back then) cents.) It will be easier to budget for big-ticket purchases. Apart from cases where the money simply isn't there, paying sales taxes won't hurt one bit.

A Toronto moment

The lady next to me on the subway is wearing exactly the same scarf as me. Mine is intricately and decoratively folded and knotted in my very best imitation of the style worn by some random girl from France I saw on the subway. Hers is wrapped around her head as a hijab.

(Aside: I'm still trying to figure out if I'm allowed to compliment a hijab-wearer on her scarf the same way I'd compliment another woman on her shoes.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interjurisdictional driver's licences

Suppose you're a teenager growing up in the place in the world with the lowest driving age. You start going through the licencing process as soon as possible, and get fully licenced as quickly as possible.

Then you go to the place in the world with the highest driving age. You are currently younger than that age, but you still hold a full and valid licence from back home. Are you legally allowed to drive in the high-aged jurisdiction?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Things They Should Invent: Sing To Your Headphones Day

In the spirit of Talk Like A Pirate Day, on Sing To Your Headphones Day everyone gets to walk around singing out loud to whatever music is playing on their headphones. Apple could sponsor and promote it and use footage in their commercials since most people are using ipods anyway.

Now taking suggestions for the best date for this to fall on.

xkcd imitates life

1. I always have these dreams. (Click on the link - I tried to embed but it's too wide.)

I've even blogged about them. They always take place in high school. And I always find myself thinking "Hey, wait, don't I have enough credits to graduate? And haven't I in fact been to university? And I seem to remember something about an apartment in Toronto?" just like in the comic. The odd thing is I've never had a translation dream. I'm coming up on my sixth anniversary in my job (and spent three years in translation school before that). I spent five years in high school. And yet I keep dreaming about high school and have never dreamed about translation.

Speaking of translation...

2. Some of my co-workers have actually had this happen:

The source text says "pun not intended" or similar. The translator goes crazy trying to figure out what the pun is. Finally the translator swallows their pride and goes to a mother-tongue speaker of the source language, only to find that there is no pun whatsoever. Our goal, which no one has yet succeeded in fulfilling unless they've neglected to brag about it, is to insert a bona fide pun in the translation. If anyone succeeds in doing so, pun jar fees will be waived.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Simpsons subtitling inconsistency


Grampa: "I just had a nightmare that I was back with your mother."
Homer: "Oh, how I hate her."


Grampa: "I just had a nightmare that I was back in England"
Homer: "Oh, how I hate them!"

I desperately want to know the story here.

Teach me how to use a curling iron

So I wrap my hair around and around and around the curling iron, all the way up to the scalp because I want the whole length to be curled. I hold it for the requisite 10 seconds. I squeeze the handle to get the curling iron out. The tong thingy does loosen, but the curling iron doesn't come out of my hair. It just stays there stuck. I have to unwrap it most of the way before it will come out, thus negating the curl.

What am I doing wrong? How do I get the curling iron out of my hair without completely unwrapping the curl?

Things They Should Invent: financial vs. political/social generosity calculator

I've known people who every xmas make generous donations to the charity of their choice, then spend the rest of the year encouraging politicians to weaken the social safety net.

Someone should come up with a way of calculating how much a person needs to give to charity to mitigate their anti-socialist actions and ensure that no net harm is done to society.

Or, if you don't like my presenting this with the socialist position as default, someone should calculate how much political action is needed to outweigh lack of donations to charity.

My subconscious doesn't want me to shop

Last night I dreamed I was shopping for shoes. When I took of my own shoes to try on a new pair, the store had someone steal them so I'd be forced to buy new ones. The problem was none of the shoes in the store fit me, so I was left shoeless. The store also had an inconsistency between their website and their actual stock: everything was in reality running shoes, even if they looked like boots or sandals on the website.

Possible clue in the Vitamin D & acne mystery

A while back, I started taking Vitamin D supplements and found that it significantly worsened my acne. I experimented a bit and determined that the Vitamin D was in fact the cause (or at least confirmed the correlation), then stopped taking Vitamin D.

Recently I started taking Vitamin B supplements, and my acne worsened significantly. The B is the same brand as the D - Life brand naturally sourced (i.e. the ones with the white label instead of the green label), so I theorize that it might be something about their specific non-medicinal ingredients or some other characteristic of the brand. Thing is, the only non-medicinal ingredient these two have in common is magnesium stearate.

The internet tells me magnesium stearate has no impact on acne, but then it also tells me that Vitamin B and Vitamin D are both supposed to help with acne.

I'm going to stop the B and let my skin return to normal, then I might take my findings to a pharmacist and see if they have any insight about whether another brand might not cause these side effects.

Open Letter to my hair

Dear hair:

I will braid you for sleeping. That is non-negotiable. Your last-ditch attempts to look gorgeous and sexy when I'm getting ready for bed despite being limp and apathetic all day will not change this. So why not be gorgeous and sexy earlier in the day, then get limp and apathetic at night when you're about to be braided anyway?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I do not think it means what you think it means

I was looking at the signatures on a PetitionOnline petition, and there were some people who signed it and then left a comment opposing the thing being petitioned for. Clearly they've confused the concepts of "petition" and "comments thread". But they still count towards the signature count. FAIL!

are they going to tell us when the economic crisis is over?

Can we expect the news media to tell us when this economic crisis is over? I don't remember ever hearing specifically that any previous recession was over (I remember hearing that the dot com boom was happening, but not that the early 90s recession was over) but my ability to read and understand financial news is only a few months old so more often than not I'd skip over economic news before.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Things They Should Study: universality of waving your hands around when talking

The source text was poorly written. Strictly speaking it did not say what the author actually intended, although realistically it was one of those "Meh, you know what I mean anyway" situations. So my co-worker and I were verbally hashing it out, lobbing it back and forth, waving our hands around, trying to clearly articulate the meaning that was intended but not said.

We were stuck on one particular concept that was entirely non-tangible. It was a purely abstract idea. There is no physical element to it. It did not involve shape or size or motion, not even symbolically or metaphorically.

But when we were trying to articulate this concept, we both waved our hands around in gestures that involved shape, size, and motion. And we both, independently and simultaneously, landed on exactly exactly the same hand gestures, with exactly the same shape, size, and motion. The gestures did nothing to actually clarify the concept. If we'd been trying to explain it to an onlooker who couldn't read the source text, they would have no more information with the gestures than without. And yet we landed on exactly the same gestures.

Someone needs to study this. Get people to explain intangible concepts that cannot be communicated more effectively with gesturs than without, and videotape them doing so, then see if there's any consistency in the hand gestures used.

Things They Should Study: are subway mice universally cute?

I think the little black mousies that live in the subway tracks are cute. So does everyone else I've ever discussed subway mice with.

Which is really weird if you think about it. They're mice. They live in the subway tracks. Technically they're an infestation, and they're probably covered in unspeakable filth. I've been living here for nearly nine years(!), someone should have expressed revulsion about subway mice in my presence before. But no one has, everyone thinks they're cute. I'd say a good half the time I see a mousie on the tracks, some random person on the platform goes "Oooh, look, mice!" (in an OMG CUTE! voice) or goes for a closer look or is otherwise watching them with pleasant interest. I've never seen anyone squick, although surely some people somewhere must.

It would be interesting to do a comprehensive survey and see what percentage of the population thinks the subway mice are cute, and how that compares with the population's feelings about mice in general.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Things They Should Invent: serious/urgent only breaking news feeds

Some news media have RSS or Twitter feeds that give you breaking headlines as they happen.

The problem is the vast majority of headlines you don't need your day interrupted for. I want a feed only of things a person might plausibly need their day interrupted for, things that might be actionable, things that might not wait until you get home. Things where you have to reschedule or check that your loved ones are okay. Things like "OMG, giant propane explosion in North York!" or "The whole subway is closed and your commute is going to be seriously fucked up" or "Giant earthquake somewhere with tens of thousands dead." This feed shouldn't be constant, there shouldn't necessarily even be a post every day. Just as needed and when urgent and requiring action.

I don't twitter, but I would totally join and sign up for text messages if I could get only the truly important things.

The TTC has a thingy where you can get text messages when there is a subway delay. They don't send them every day, they don't send you reassurances that the subway is fine, they don't send you fluffy little fun facts on days when the subway is running smoothly and there's nothing to tell. They just inform you when there's a problem and leave you alone otherwise. I want the equivalent for news feeds. Existing news feeds, even "breaking news" feeds, are like receiving an hourly text message telling you the subway is running smoothly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Extreme sheep

You MUST watch this. Seriously. If you only ever watch one youtube that I post, make it this one.

(shamelessly yoinked from Antonia Zerbisias)

Useless mnemonic

I already have a useful mnemonic for entomology vs. etymology: ent is close to ant, so that's the one with the bugs.

But I just randomly thought of another:

eNtomolgy: N for NO
etYmology: Y for YES

Things They DID Invent: cami-bras

Me in 2006.

The Globe and Mail today.

Google makes me look like an idiot

Google appears to have postponed voting on Project 10^100 again. This is a bit frustrating for me, because in the interim one of the ideas I submitted has become obsolete.

Intellectually I realize there was hardly any chance of my submissions making it as far as the voting anyway. Like 90% of the other submissions I've seen people post publicly are better than mine, and a lot of people submitting ideas were professionals, whereas I'm just some random who takes long showers. And intellectually I realize that even if my idea had made it as far as voting and made the top 20, Google wouldn't have chosen it since they would have the resources to figure out that it was only a few months away from obsolescence.

Back in October, my idea looked new and interesting and innovative. Best case it was a solution to a major problem that only needed a functional prototype, worst case it was a perfectly valid and rather clever idea, especially seeing as it came from someone completely uninvolved in related research.

But now it looks like it's coming from some idiot who doesn't keep up on current events.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Putting in a requisition a crystal ball

I want a crystal ball that will tell me whether something will go smoothly or not. I don't even need to know precisely how it will go wrong if it's going to go wrong, just whether it's going to go smoothly or go wrong.

If I walk into a situation with the assumption that it's going to go smoothly (which I don't usually do) and then it ends up going wrong, it messes me up. Introvert brain prevents me from recovering gracefully, and I get a wee bit paranoid about everything in the future until I gather enough empirical evidence to suggest that life in general will go as predicted.

But if I'm assuming a situation will go wrong, I'm carrying around a lot of stress and more often than not I psych myself out.

I just want to know ahead of time which things are going to go wrong and which things I don't have to worry about. Is that so much to ask?

iTunes Genius has lost its memory

Earlier today I was playing with iTunes Genius, and it only gave me a 13 song playlist for Amy Winehouse's You Know I'm No Good, even though I asked for 100 songs. (It didn't even bother to pad out the playlist with the rest of my Amy Winehouse.)

I hadn't updated iTunes in a long time, so I decided to do that and see if it helped. After the update, it didn't recognize You Know I'm No Good at all, as though it's not in the database any more!


Sunday, March 15, 2009

My only problem with the plot of today's Simpsons

How did Lisa know which key to play Heart and Soul in?

More information please

According to a nearly-unrelated article in the Star: "just a third of Canadians set to retire in 2030 are saving at levels needed to meet basic household expenses."

Interesting! I wonder if I'm one of those one third of Canadians? (I'm not set to retire in 2030, but that's the year I turn 50 and my parents retired around that age so it gets me thinking.)

Guess what, I have no idea if I'm saving enough, because I have no idea what kinds of savings are required today to meet basic household expenses decades from now. I have a nice little system that sounds all impressive and organized and some nice numbers that look pretty on paper and I could convince just about anyone that I'm being all good and diligent, but I have no idea how to actually extrapolate whether this will be sufficient decades in the future.

Since someone seems to be able to do the extrapolations, it would be helpful if they'd share this with us.

How to communicate

1. If you can't think of the word, instead of going "um, um, um" or "What's it called again?" give your interlocutor some kind of a hint - whatever kind of word association is currently going on in your brain. "That actress, that blonde lady who was married to that really ugly guy…" or "not mitigated, like the opposite of mitigated - like reducing positive impact the same way that mitigate means reducing negative impact". Then your interlocutor can help come up with the word or might arrive at the right answer instead of the whole conversation being stalled by um um um. It works - we've all been in a conversation where one person goes "That guy who made that other movie with the skinny guy" and the other person knows EXACTLY what they're talking about.

2. The answer to "Where can I buy something like that?" is never "Anywhere!" You need a narrower definition of "anywhere," since your interlocutor clearly has no frame of reference. A productive answer is "I got mine at Winner's, but I've also seen them at Shopper's or even some of the bigger Loblaws." Then they have some specific places to work with plus a general idea of the range of places that will sell the thing in question.

3. If the name of something has changed, you need to mention what it's best known as in collective consciousness, and you need to do this in the headline or the lede. People recognize Skydome even when they don't recognize Rogers Centre. People recognize Stelco even when they don't recognize U.S. Steel. People recognize Dominion or A&P even when they don't recognize Metro. If they recognize the thing being talked about, they'll read your article. If they don't, they'll skip over it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

We live in a bloody swamp, we need all the land we can get

I really wish I had situations in my life where it would be appropriate (or at least not inappropriate) to wear this shirt.

Wherein being dishonest and assholicly literalist would have saved me a lot of money

My building has a thing where they give you a significantly lower rent increase if you sign another lease instead of going month to month. So when I went to sign another year's lease, there was a typo on the form and it said 2009-20010 instead of 2009-2010. I pointed it out, we all had a giggle and crossed out the extra zero, and I signed a lease until 2010.

It just occurred to me that if I hadn't pointed it out and we'd all signed the document with the typo in it, I'd have in hand a legal document signed by my landlord locking in my rent rate for my lifetime and beyond. Now it's true I might not want to live here for my entire life. However, the rule is that if you leave in the middle of your lease, you don't take any penalty if you can find someone to take over your lease. And I'm sure I could totally find someone who would want a locked-in-for-life rent rate in a rather nice building. They wouldn't have to worry about the excessively long-term lease, because the more time went by the more desirable it would be to pay 2009 rent. Imagine if today you had the opportunity to rent an apartment locked in at 1999 rates! Actually, if I waited 10 or 20 years, I could probably get away with subletting it at a profit, and everyone (except the landlord) would feel like they've won!

But partly because I was honest, partly because my first thought was "OMG, I don't want to sign a legal document with a mistake in it!", we corrected it and I completely missed an opportunity to screw over my landlord and save enormous amounts of money in the long term.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The grocery store renovation conspiracy

When my Dominion was renovated into a Metro, the aisles were made a bit narrower. Now to get two carts and a pedestrian through the same space is a slow narrow squeeze, where before it was completely neutral. This means that every display that protrudes into the aisle, every party with two or more children, every pile of boxes of stuff to be stocked onto the shelves, every couple debating what kind of soy sauce to buy, everyone to stands next to instead of in front of or behind their cart to pick something off the shelf, they all cause minor gridlock. It's extremely frustrating because I could totally finish my shopping in half the time if they had reasonable traffic flow.

It occurred to me that maybe they're doing this on purpose so people will spend more time in the store. Once upon a time I read somewhere that the muzak in grocery stores was specifically chosen to make people walk slower so they'd spend more time. Maybe they're doing the same thing with their aisle width. Problem is, it raises my blood pressure. If there were another equally convenient grocery store with wider aisles, I'd go there in a second. Unfortunately, this is one is literally right on my way home - not even a step out of my way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


YES! I knew this existed! (His name was Jeremy in English. I've seen both, but I remembered the French better but didn't know how to spell it.) No one else seemed to remember it, but I knew I didn't imagine it!

Added: and here he is in English

Edited to add again, two more:

Dr. Snuggles:

The Green Forest:

Things They DID Invent

1. Mine:

Me in 2005.

In the Toronto Star today.

2. Not mine:

xkcd c. 2006.

Terry Jones yesterday.

Cutest thing ever

This will make you ovulate. Even if you don't have ovaries.

Refining the quick fertility test

I previously came up with the idea of a quick general fertility test. Here's a thought on how it might work: test the menstruation for the presence of an ovum. If you've ovulated, the ovum should be somewhere in there, right?

Problems: the ovum is only one cell, so you'd have to go through ALL the menstruation to find it rather than just taking a sample. (Unless it leaves some sort of residuals behind?)

It wouldn't confirm the viability of the ovum, just the presence. That could help - if there's no ovum you've got your answer - but it wouldn’t be a definitive one-shot yes or no.

The test would have to be taken multiple months, because some people ovulate unreliably.

Nevertheless, if they could come up with a simple at-home method to test for the presence of an ovum in one's own menstruation, that would give us considerably more information.

Things They Should Invent: signs indicating which crosswalk has the longer light

At intersections with an advance green, one of the crosswalk has a longer green light than the other. It would be helpful to know this, especially if your ultimate goal is to cross kitty-corner and especially if the other street is easily jaywalkable. There should be signage to this effect. Yes, sometimes you can extrapolate from the advance green signs, but the advance greens don't always have signs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Things They Should Study: what day does it feel like?

It doesn't feel like Tuesday today. It feels more like Wednesday or Thursday. This would be unremarkable, except that a number of people hve also independently told me tthat it doesn't feel like Tuesday.

Someone should study this phenomenon. Interview random people walking down the street and see what day it feels like to them. See if there's a general consensus about what day it feels like, and try to identify factors that affect people's perception thereof.

I wonder how copyright works in the world of fashion

Does Jean-Charles de Castelbajac have to pay royalties to Jim Henson's estate (or whomever now owns the Muppets?)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Seen on Yonge St.

Walking one way is a toddler holding a cookie. Walking the other way is a doggie that has almost, but not quite, grown out of being a puppy. The two are exactly the same height.

The toddler wants to pat the doggie.

The doggie wants the cookie.

The doggie's humans and the toddler's grownups all tell the toddler that she can totally pet the doggie, but he's going to try to steal her cookie. Nevertheless, the toddler surges bravely forward.

The toddler's grownups try to take the cookie out of her hand, but she's having none of that! They're not going to trick her into giving up her cookie! The doggie's humans try to get him to sit, but he's having none of that! There's a cookie right there!

The toddler reaches the doggie and pets him. The doggie licks her face. She bursts out crying - and drops the cookie. The doggie snarfs it up.

I move along so as not to be seen laughing at what what the poor kid will one day be telling her therapist was the turning point in the development of her lifelong fear of dogs.

Unrelated bonus: a whole herd of puppies

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Just cuz

(Sorry for the video, but I can't convince imeem or songza to let me do a full embed.)

Responsibility seems to be subjective

James Bow on whether helping foreclosed home owners is promoting irresponsible behaviour.

It's interesting to me that some corners are now considering buying a home with perhaps an over-leveraged mortgage irresponsible, because for my entire life up until this economic crisis I have been immersed in the conventional wisdom that not buying a home is irresponsible.

All the grownups in my family own houses. They also invest their money. I was raised with the idea that this is the responsible thing to do. As I progressed through live and learned more about finances and met more people, all my elders, everyone who knows more about money than I do, everyone I know who is financially set for life, has agreed that the thing to do is buy a home and invest your money. I've been told from all corners, by my elders and my betters, by family and friends and even random people I'd just met, that it's irresponsible - not just suboptimal, but actively irresponsible - to rent in the neighbourhood I want to live in instead of buying in the outer reaches of 905, and to keep my savings in a bank account instead of investing in stocks and mutual funds.

I didn't take any of these financial risks because I don't feel like I have enough knowledge to avoid losing money. However, I was always told - by people who know more than me, by people who are (even still today) financially secure - that I don't need to worry, housing prices always go up and the stock market goes up in the long term. But I'm not brave enough to take those risks, so I kept on renting and kept my money safe and liquid. And because of that, I haven't lost any of my savings, and my housing situation is not at risk unless I face long-term unemployment.

So I'm relatively safe because I disregarded years of advice from everyone who knows better, and because I'm too chickenshit to take risks I don't fully grok. If I were the kind of person to heed the advice of my betters and if I were willing to take on a generally-acceptable adult level of risk, I would not be nearly as safe.

So yeah, I don't think it's fair to treat people like they're irresponsible and need to be punished just because the economic crisis blew up their mortgage. It's not just desire to improve one's lifestyle, it's not just unscrupulous bankers, it's an entire lifetime's and an entire society's worth of conventional wisdom.

I don't know why I'm so low-content lately

But floppy ears are cute.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Playing dumb

I'm considering doing business with a place I've never done business with before, and that is either out of my league or just at the very topmost border of my league. So, as with all new interactions with an unknown quantity, I'm writing myself a mental script.

I've been spending some time on their website, so I'm in a position to walk in there knowledgeably and start making declarative statements. "Hi, I'm here to A, B, and C." I have enough information that I could even do it without upspeak. Unless there's an egregious disconnect between website and reality, I'm in a position to show as much confidence as I do when ordering a large double double at Tim Horton's.

However, I found in my mental script I kept landing on less confident-sounding constructions. I'm either hiding my knowledge ("Hi, I was wondering if you had anything like [insert description of thing that will lead me to A, B or C]") or making excuses for it ("Hi, I was looking at your website and...").

But why am I doing this? Why is my social instinct to hide the fact that I've looked at their website, to hide the fact that I have some basic knowledge of what they do and what they offer?

After thinking about this for a while, I'm wondering if maybe my childhood bullies are making me use these less confident constructions. In between time in school and time spent working customer service, the majority of my life was spent in contexts where demonstrating knowledge was discouraged. In school I'd be punished socially for uttering a five-syllable word or for showing prior knowledge of something we were being taught in class, and when working front-line customer service the customers would react poorly if my speech patterns or banter revealed that I was perhaps in their league intellectually. I ended up dropping my register by about 1.5 prestige levels just to get through the day smoothly.

So maybe because of all this, my social instincts are now telling me to walk into situations pretending to be ignorant?

Writing this, I thought of something I read somewhere on the internet once. A parent was writing about how they caught their teenage daughter playing dumb when discussing math homework with a boy, and basically told her it was unacceptable for her to do that. At the time when I read it, it occurred to me that perhaps she wasn't playing dumb specifically so he'd think he was smarter than her (with the assumption that he wouldn't want a girl who's smarter than him) but rather perhaps she was playing dumb as an icebreaker. She asks him for help, he can help her just to be nice and they have an excuse to sit together alone somewhere that's quiet with their heads bent over the same book. Then once he's explained the math, she has an excuse to give him a hug or a minor kiss to express her gratitude, and to do him a favour sometime later. Makes me wish I'd had that in my repetoire as a teenager! (Since I've always wanted prospective lovers to want or at least appreciate my brains, it never occurred to me to play dumb even as an icebreaker.) but now that I actually write about how playing dumb has been helpful socially in various scenarios, I wonder if this poor girl's social repetoire was hindered by her parent's insistence that she never play dumb.

On word choices

Antonia Zerbisias objects because some people on US TV talking about abortion chose and/or landed on the word "people" instead of the word "women."

This is really interesting to me, because I tend to say "people" instead of "women" in the same place for exactly the opposite motive attributed to the speakers here. It's something I started doing a long time ago in response to two things.

First, to avoid creating a Someone Else's Problem field, I don't specifically mention gender unless it's a case of causation as opposed to correlation.

Then, after reading some Deborah Tannen where she articulated how male tends to be linguistically unmarked and female tends to be by default Other and observing a number of interactions IRL where this manifested itself absurdly (example: a woman mentioned that she had just moved into the gaybourhood, and a man in the conversation made a stupid "don't drop the soap" type joke) I decided to deliberately make the female unmarked whenever it could be smoothly incorporated. So instead of saying "This is really dangerous, someone could fall down the stairs. If it's pregnant woman she could have a miscarriage and if it's an old lady she could break a hip!" I would say "...If they're pregnant they could fall down the stairs, and if they're postmenopausal they could break a hip!" I know it doesn't actually do anything - no one is going to think for a moment that it's a pregnant or postmenopausal man - but I'm doing it on principle and as an intellectual challenge. So far no one has noticed that I do this (or perhaps they have and just haven't said anything - in my line of work people tend to notice).

I don't really have a point here, I just think it's interesting.

Parting your hair with a ruler

I have no control over the part in my hair. It goes wherever and however it wants. One day a while back it ended up in a perfectly straight line. Someone said to me that day "Did you part your hair with a ruler?" Seemed to me a really strange thing to comment on, but some people are like that.

But it just occurred to me: can you even part your hair with a ruler? How would that work?

Friday, March 06, 2009


Wanted: a continuous loop of the "I got soul but I'm not a soldier" part of All These Things That I've Done, maybe a couple of minutes long. Downloadable or embedded online is fine. I just wah wah whine don't want to have to edit an audio file myself.

Fun fact of the day

From a comment by Shawn Micallef in Spacing:

When Rev Brent Hawkes performed Canada’s/Toronto’s first same-sex marriage at the Metropolitan Community Church in 2001 he wore a bullet proof vest.

This is confirmed widely. (This was the one that was done by publication of banns and wasn't legally recognized.)

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Ontario in 2003 and federally in 2005. Some people made a bit of a fuss for a little while, but it very quickly became basically a fact of life. Some people probably still don't like it, but they just don't do it themselves and let other people get on with their lives. And yeah, we still kind of have the childish need to mention the genders of the happy couple when we're invited to our first big gay wedding. But overall, it's normalized.

So we went from requiring a bullet-proof vest to "Yeah, all right, whatever, I'm cooking eggs" in the space of maybe five years. That's pretty cool.

Things They Should Invent: tester-sized mascara

The problem with trying new mascara is you don't know if it will work better than your previous mascara. Obviously they can't have in-store testers for sanitary reasons, but still it really sucks to drop ten bucks on something that ends up being worse than what you were using before (and therefore is useless).

Solution: very small tubes of mascara that sell for maybe two or three dollars. They have the same brush as the regular mascara because the brush is an essential part of the application, but the brush handle is shorter and they only contain a few days' worth of mascara. You drop a couple of bucks, test it, and if it's better you buy a full-sized tube with an easier-to-use full-size brush handle. Maybe they could even sell it at a loss, because people totally aren't going to use mascara brush with an inch-long handle for everyday.

I can think of at least three mascaras I would try if I didn't have to pay full price for them. If only one company did this, they'd be in the best position to win over new customers

Mother Nature gives us a quickie

It went up to a sunny 16 degrees today, and the wind was pushing 50 km/h. At lunch I went for a walk. With no coat on. And my hair down. Wearing my sunglasses for the first time in 2009. The wind (warm! comfortable! pleasant!) bounced off all the tall buildings and came at me from every direction, whipping my hair in front of my face, then trailing it in a ribbon behind me, then blowing it straight up in the air and making it settle in a cloud over my shoulders.

I came back to work flushed and tousled, and all was right with the world. Then I put my regular glasses back on, put my hair back up, and got back to work.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why I love Toronto

Spacing and the Star both have lists of reasons why they love Toronto.

Here's mine: in Toronto I'm nothing special.

Growing up, I was the weird girl with the long hair and the accent. In Toronto, there's always someone around who's weirder, or has longer hair, or has a stronger accent.

Elsewhere, people tend to be impressed because I have a handful of European languages. In Toronto, they're vaguely disappointed that I don't speak, say, Thai.

Elsewhere, I've had people be impressed because I can dabble in a few musical instruments. In Toronto, there's a busker right there playing a bassoon, and the one in the other subway station was playing some strange instrument I've never seen before in my life.

Here, I never get the opportunity to develop the illusion that any of these things are special, and I'm a better person for it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Foreplay for the brain

Video is irrelevant, just press play and listen to the music

Monday, March 02, 2009

Open Letters

Dear plasterer eating fruit on the subway:

If you're going to leave the pips on the train, at least drop them on the floor instead of leaving them on the seat next to you.

Dear mother of twins:

I see that you have two babies, most likely through no fault of your own, and I get that you need a stroller that can hold two babies. The problem is that your stroller is so wide that it doesn't leave enough room in the supermarket aisle for a shopping cart to pass. When the store is crowded like during evening rush hour, this messes up traffic flow in the whole entire store. When you are in an aisle, no one can get past you in either direction. You're going to have to either a) get a narrower stroller, perhaps one that has the kids one in front of another instead of side by side, or b) leave the kids at home or with a sitter while you do groceries, or c) go shopping during non-peak times. Seriously. I get that strollers and childcare are expensive and you have shitloads of things to do on very little sleep, but you're inconveniencing literally hundreds of people with that behemoth.

Dear Flash fetishists:

If you present the content of your website as image-based Flash only rather than as text, it won't get indexed by Google. This means that when the translator working on your annual report thinks "Surely all this shiny happy stuff about their history and mission and values has already been done in carefully-crafted English by their talented corporate communications people" and then goes googling to save herself some time and you some money, she will get zero hits. At this point she would be perfectly justified in translating it herself, which means you will be paying the translator to do what you've already paid your communications people to do, and the translator might (perfectly rightfully) make different choices along the way. However, if your translator is a stubborn little shit like me, she won't take zero google hits for an answer and will plow through your sea of flash until she finds the information in question. However, since your Flash is image-based instead of text-based and therefore can't be copy-pasted, you are still paying the translator's hourly rates to retype all this stuff when it could have been done in 30 seconds of copy-pasting. It's essentially advertising copy about how awesome your organization is, why not make it easy for people to find it and repeat it elsewhere?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mystery glass

The other day I found a piece of broken glass in my dishwasher, but none of the dishes in there were broken.

I was just talking to my friend on the phone, and she said she recently found a piece of broken glass randomly lying on the floor, but nothing in the house seemed to be broken.

So if it turns out that we're in a horror movie or something, this is the clue the killer left.