Sunday, May 31, 2009

Things They Should Invent: flying hairdryer droid

I don't use a hairdryer every day because on normal days my hair is dry by the time I need to leave. However, on days when I'm running really late, sometimes my hair is still wet when I need to leave. The problem is that I'm running really late, so I don't have time to stand there blowdrying. I need to put on my makeup and get dressed and sort out all the stuff that needs to be in my purse and brush my teeth and maybe chug a quick cup of coffee.

So I was thinking they should invent a handsfree blowdryer, but then I remembered they already have those. Problem is they're attached to chairs, like in old-fashioned beauty parlours. When I'm running late, I don't have time to sit around.

So what we really need is a flying/hovering star wars type droid. It follows you around and flies around your head blowdrying your hair. Your hands are free, you can walk around as needed because it will follow you, it's the perfect invention and everyone will buy one just as soon as we've perfected that pesky autonomous flying droid technology.

If I ever write science fiction, I am absolutely working this thing in.

To do next time I encounter abortion protesters

A couple of years ago, I encountered an abortion protest (my first as a pedestrian) where they had giant pictures of dismembered babies. I used this opportunity to fulfill a longstanding if childish goal of acting like they gave me the idea of getting an abortion.

But now that I think about it, the dismembered fetuses on their posters were really neatly dismembered. They were like broken dolls - arms detached at the shoulders and legs detached at the hips. I think their heads were even still attached.

If the procedure does cause the fetus to be dismembered (and I have no idea whether it does or not), you'd think it wouldn't be as neat. Maybe the foot would come off at the ankle or part of the arm would come off at the elbow. Maybe its head would come off. Maybe its brain would explode or its eyeballs would come out.

Also, they were really neat and clean for having just passed through the birth canal and been dismembered. I know a miscarriage looks like a big messy menstruation. I know newborn babies are born covered in gunk. So you'd think an aborted fetus would look like one or the other or some average between the two. If I remember correctly, this one was sort of generally wet, but it wasn't covered in any bodily fluids of any sort. They weren't bleeding where the arms had come off

So I think if I ever encounter these people again, I'll ask them about the pictures. What method of abortion was used? How far along was fetus and how big was it? Why did it dismember? Why did it dismember so neatly? Why didn't it explode? Why is it so clean? Where did all the uterine lining and placenta and amniotic fluid and whatever else is in the uterus go? Under what circumstances was it possible to photograph the fetus?

If anyone should ever have this opportunity before me, I'd appreciate a report.

The problem with the constantly-evolving English language

I'm in a pet store looking at an adorable pile of puppies playing. They're an adorable pile of puppies and they're playing, so a small crowd has gathered. At one point, one of the puppies decides to lick his brother's genitals, to the general disgust of the audience. "OMG, that's sick!" I blurt out without thinking.

Some kids next to me look at me strange.

I look back at them, not understanding why they're looking at me.

They keep looking at me strange.

Then I realize what they're thinking. "Ew, no! I meant that in the Gen X sense of the word!"

I guess I didn't exude enough estrogen

Apparently fathers' politics shift further to the left the more daughters they have.

If that's the case, I hate to see what my father would be like if he had any sons!

What's up with today's Foxtrot?

Warp factor 11???

Surely both Bill Amend and Jason Fox know that the warp scale only goes up to 10.

(Yes, I am that kind of nerd. We already know that. My point is that so is Jason Fox.)

Twitter is bringing back the good old days

In the olden days of the internet, it was kind of socially acceptable to email someone just because you saw their posting somewhere and had something to say. There weren't that many people on the internet, so the fact that you were both on the internet was very nearly a suitable pretense for initiating contact. As Miss Manners puts it, the (virtual) roof was an introduction.

Then, of course, the internet got bigger and that became unworkable. Now you have to sort of establish a relationship in some online community before you can start talking to someone one-on-one.

But I think Twitter is bringing back this "roof is an introduction" idea. You can totally tweet at someone just on the basis that they're on Twitter. The low-commitment aspects of Twitter, the very things people say makes it rude - the fact that it's only 140 characters, the fact that Twitter etiquette makes following and replying purely optional - are what makes this possible. If everyone emailed everyone on a whim with no basis for introduction, we'd quickly be overwhelmed. But 140-character messages that it's acceptable to ignore make it once again manageable.

For example, Wil Wheaton recently tweeted a question at the Twitter spam team. I was interested in this question too, so I replied asking him to retweet their answer if they send him one. That's totally allowed and not particularly presumptuous. Wil didn't reply to me, which is also totally allowed and not the least bit rude. Wil Wheaton also happens to be my first adolescent celebrity crush. But because we're working within a 140 character limit, because there's no requirement to introduce oneself (i.e. no "Um, hi, sorry to bother you, but I loved you in Star Trek and I read your blog all the time...") there was no room for fangirl awkwardness. It's simply sharing information with another internet user, like back in 1994.

Comparative stylistics

Writing that last post reminded me of something that my 2nd year French prof said. She said "French expresses abstract ideas better than English."

This is not true.

French tends to express ideas more abstractly, and English tends to express ideas more concretely. But we can't say that either way is "better", because it's always coloured by our mother tongue.

I find that when truly abstract ideas are expressed in the already-abstract academic register of French (especially French from France), they're practically meaningless to me. When reading them I glaze over, and when attempting to translate them I'm tearing out my hair because I need to truly grok what is being said - my standard technique of doing a close translation of the French and editing the English turns out pseudo-intellectual bullshit that is very nearly meaningless even to an Anglophone subject-matter expert. I find the more concrete English is better for expressing abstract ideas because it requires retaining a certain grip on reality.

This is totally because I'm Anglophone. Francophones might find an abstract expression of abstract ideas easier to understand, and a concrete expression might make their brain hurt for reasons I can't possibly conceive of but readily accept might exist.

And that's the point. Neither language is objectively better for expressing certain ideas. We simply understand ideas more easily when they're presented in the concept system we're most familiar with.

Traduire la lutte

A couple of times I've had to translate incident reports that contain, literally, blow-by-blow accounts of altercations.

As with many things, English tends to require more specific verbs. We need to say punch or hit or slap or kick or poke where French, for example, would simply say donner un coup.

So as a result, I found myself thinking about how exactly you would deliver a blow to someone on a particular body part. It seems to be quite specific to the target body part. If it's the stomach, you're going to punch. If it's the balls, you're probably going to knee or kick depending on the choreography. You wouldn't slap someone on the stomach or poke them in the balls - that would be silly.

We think the reasons for this are anatomical. But what if they're really cultural and we don't realize it? It's not going to apply within my wimpy little collection of European languages obviously, but what if in some obscure and uncolonized pocket of the world there's a culture where it's normal to slap your opponent in the stomach or poke them in the balls? Or what if hitting them in the stomach is a really weird and last-resort sort of thing to do, and a much more normal thing to do during an altercation would be, I don't know, to stick a stick in their ear or something?

What we consider to be normal is always more cultural than we think it is. It would be so cool if this applied to fighting as well.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Anyone know the nitty gritty details of sterilization?

With both Essure and tubal ligation, the Fallopian tubes are made impassable, so the ova can't get from the ovaries to the uterus.

But these procedures do nothing to prevent the ovaries from releasing ova. So where do the ova go?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Things I want to blog about but am currently too tired

- Why current electoral boundaries are a disservice to the highrise-dwelling residents of Yonge & Eg.

- Joe Fiorito's latest column on the Nunavut seal hunt

- A post that should be interestingly theoretical and philosophical but I can't get to stop sounding whiny.

- An oversight in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act that is forcing long-term tenants into a lower quality of life.

- The translation problems of violence

- Why parents need to model benefit of the doubt

- Things the Toronto cycling lobby should do

Make a request, and I'll blog that one first.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Look at the baby sheep!


Can dogs read humans?

The other day, a puppy who didn't know better tried to use me as a chew toy. I didn't particularly mind because he was adorable and fixed all my blood pressure problems, but nevertheless I withdrew whenever his teeth got me because it wouldn't do to give him the idea that biting people is acceptable.

Later it occurred to me that it might be helpful for training if humans acted like they're in pain every time the puppy gets them with his teeth. (It wasn't actually painful IRL, it was just...teeth.) That might help teach him that biting isn't good.

But could a puppy read humans enough to tell that they're in pain and this is bad? And would he care that they're in pain and interpret it as bad that they're in pain?

Or, conversely, could a puppy read humans so well that he could tell that we're exaggerating the pain and think "What a bunch of drama queens!"

Either I don't have an original thought in my head, or I should be a political advisor

1. Last fall, I analyzed Stéphane Dion's CTV interview. Yesterday, the CBSC came to the same conclusions as I did. For obvious reasons, mine's more focused on linguistics and theirs is more focused on broadcast standards, but it's the same thesis.

2. In March, I came up with the idea of including the harmonized sales tax in the sticker price. Today it was reported that the Ontario government is pondering whether to do just that. (I'm not sure why the article is framing it so negatively - as a consumer, I'd certainly find it more convenient.)

3. Yesterday I came up with a conspiracy theory. The Globe and Mail's Andrew Steele came up with the same thing. (Thank you anonymous commenter.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Conspiracy theory, anyone?

Because it's fun to make conspiracy theories:

What if the federal gov't recently announced that the deficit is going to be higher than predicted to create for themselves an excuse to cut social programs?

For In Death fans

Stephen, a contestant on today's episode of Jeopardy, is TOTALLY McNab!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The first couple of times I see something on TV, I don't normally notice the acting because I'm following the story. But then when I revist something much later, I notice acting that I wasn't appreciating before.

For example, Hugh Laurie (i.e. the tall one) here:

And OMG Brent Spiner! This scene is a bit cringy out of necessity, but he's playing the role of an emotionless android trying to figure out courtship rituals. Okay, yeah, whatever. But it's so much more amazing once you consciously think that the actor inside this android is a real person with a sense of humour!

Tarted up and kicking ass

Train of thought originating from a post on Broadsheet where a guy was surprised when a girl who was dressed fashionably knew stuff about finance.

I found that weird, because while not all the fashion people I know are into finance, all the finance people I know are into fashion. They're the ones with the money, so they're the ones with the most kick-ass shoe collection.

But this reminds me of something I've been mulling over recently. I really enjoy being all girled up and being highly competent at the same time. Like the total enjoyment I get is greater than the sum of the enjoyment of being girled up and the enjoyment of being competent. Lugging stuff around in killer heels, or translating technical specifications in while wielding cleavage, or dissecting a computer with manicured hands - it all makes me feel slightly more kick-ass and accomplished than is really deserved.

Thinking about this article, I think I've figured out why: because it's surprising to the very type of people who would be surprised by it. It makes anyone who would underestimate me realize that they're underestimating me, all without saying a word.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Things They Should Study: queue strategy

At the grocery store, suppose at one register there's one person with 10 items, and at another register there's two people 5 five items each. Obviously the register with only one person in line will be faster because they only have to go through the paying dance once.

But what if the choice is one person with 12 items vs. two people with 5 items each? What if there's two people with 5 each vs. three people with 1 each? What about one with 12 vs. three with 2 each?

In calculating which line is moving fastest, each person who has to pay must create a delay equal to a certain number of items. Someone should do a study and work this out so we can all have efficient queue strategy.

Things They Should Study: does external racism hinder people's career paths?

Some of my co-workers and I have recently been dealing with an external individual who is less helpful and cooperative than we would like. My own personal interactions with this individual have been notably less unpleasant than those of my colleagues.

This seemed very odd to me. Normally, in life in general, if anyone is going to get an unpleasant response, it's going to be me. I'm not particularly charming or persuasive or authoritative or otherwise able convince people to do what I want them to. All the other people involved here have both better people skills and more authority than I do. And yet somehow I elicited the least unpleasant reaction, the reaction that was nearest to being cooperative.

So I was thinking about why this could be, and one theory that crossed my mind is that the individual in question might be racist. Of all the people involved, I am the only one with a name that sounds English.

Understand, I have no way of knowing if it actually is racism. There are a number of plausible explanations, I have no other hints of racism, and it would be a stupid way for this individual to be racist anyway. But that is an idea that occurred to me, so I started logicking the idea to its natural conclusion.

Let's suppose, for the purpose of this blog post, that this individual is in fact racist and is responding better to me for that reason. A pattern would develop, and people would start to notice that I can consistently get the best response from this individual. And suppose some other racist externals turned up, and also responded better to me for purely racist reasons. This would lead people to believe that I'm good at handling difficult externals. Co-workers might pass difficult externals off to me because I get better results. Racist externals might prefer to and in fact seek out to deal with me. And then if a promotion comes up for a position that involves dealing with externals, I'd end up being the natural choice. Not because I'm objectively better than my co-workers, but because of factors beyond anyone's control.

I wonder to what extent problems like this hinder people's career paths. Even if your employer is completely fair and equitable, if some of your customers or vendors or suppliers are biased against you, you're going to have a harder time doing your job well.

Someone should study this.

Things They Should Invent: poisonous window screens

Window screens are meant to keep bugs out, which is a good thing. But sometimes bugs just walk around on the screen, which is yucky and a bit scary because it seems like they might at any time figure out how to make their way through the holes in the screen.

Solution: make window screens poisonous to bugs. They touch them, they die. That will keep them out!

(Of course, non-poisonous ones would still need to be available for households where small children or pets might decide to lick a screen.)

YouTube language settings problem

In an attempt to achieve more language-neutral browser behaviour, I added multiple languages to my browser's language settings.

Problem: YouTube consistently and automatically sets its interface to the third language in my list. I've experimented, I've shifted things around in the list, it's always the third language. The first two are English and French, which YouTube does speak, but it skips right to the third.

Weird, eh?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why students should be encouraged to use Wikipedia

A lot of people tell students they shouldn't use Wikipedia when researching stuff for school.

I think they're missing out on a golden opportunity to teach critical thinking.

Wikipedia is hugely helpful. Even in my professional life, I find it's quite frequently the best resource for quickly and easily getting a general overview of a topic. However, it is of varying quality and is sometimes edited by people who have agendas.

Students should be taught how to how to identify good information vs. questionable information vs. propoganda in Wikipedia. They could, for example, take an article on a topic that interests them and analyze its quality. Go to the sources to see if they check out, do linguistic analysis for biais and spin, look at the discussion page and history and see if there are any edit wars going on and describe how that affects the current state of the article.

It's a live, real, and immediately applicable tool for not only teaching critical thinking, but showing students its importance.

Then, once they've learned all that, they shouldn't be discouraged from using it for research; they should be expected to understand that it isn't the alpha and the omega, and marked accordingly.

Does oil decompose?

As we all remember from elementary school science class, crude oil is made of decomposed dinosaurs.

Question: if we left it in the ground, would it decompose further?

If it will decompose further, why doesn't plastic decompose? Plastic is made from oil.

If it won't decompose further, does that mean that other organic matter (mulch, compost, dead bodies in cemetaries) won't fully decompose either?

Things They Should Study: six degrees of separation strategy

The original six degrees of separation study was within the United States - the source people were in Kansas or somewhere conceptually similar, and the target person was in Boston or somewhere conceptually similar. This got me thinking that it would be interesting to do an international study involving people in completely different parts of the world. For example, I might be asked to get a letter to someone in Turkmenistan.

So then I got thinking about how I could get a letter to someone in Turkmenistan, and I came up with three separate strategies. The first would be to get it as close to Turkmenistan as possible. I would do this by sending it to Poland. However, people's connections tend not to be geographical beyond the very local level. (For example, I don't know anyone who lives in Barrie, so getting a letter to Barrie would be just as much of a crapshoot as getting it to Turkmenistan.)

The second strategy would be to try professional channels. If my target is a classical musician, I send it to someone I know who's a classical musician. However, your professional network doesn't necessarily reach your whole profession. (I couldn't reach a translator in Turkmenistan any more easily than I could reach a classical musician in Turkmenistan).

The third strategy would be to cast as wide a net as possible by sending it to the person I know who knows the most people. This seems like a better idea, but I'm still basically throwing darts blindfolded.

So thinking about all this, I think it would be interesting to do a study to see which strategy is most effective. All the source people would get three letters to send to one target person. They'd be instructed to send the first letter as close as geographically possible to the target (with all subsequent recipients instructed to do the same), the second as close as professionally possible (with all subsequent recipients instructed to do the same), and the third to the one person they know who knows the most people (with all subsequent recipients instructed to do the same until they can see in their network a direct path to the target.) I'm sure the results would be fascinating.

How to promote safer teen sexual behaviour: put the clitoris on the map

The sex ed I received in school was thorough and very informative, but it was focused entirely on preventing pregnancy and STD transmission, with no information about sexual pleasure. As a result, I didn't come away with any knowledge of specific sex acts, and I didn't learn about the clitoris there.

My parents had the good judgement to give me a book about "your changing body" that included slightly more sex ed information, including the location and function of the clitoris. It was quite the revelation, but I'm not sure if it was common knowledge among my peers. I remember in Grade 12 a classmate did her World Issues presentation on female genital mutilation, and she did think it was necessary to briefly mention in passing what the clitoris actually is. She most likely had a larger sample size than I did from which to determine how fluent in the geography of the vulva our classmates would be, so it is likely that a significant number of people did not know about the clitoris. Obviously everyone learns about it eventually, but it seems that a significant number of people spent several years of their sexually-aware life without knowing about the clitoris, and this was at the same age where the general social goal is to reduce risky sexual behaviour.

The sex ed I received, both at school and at home, was very reproduction-focused. It started with where babies come from, and moved on into birth control and STDs in a broader context of how to manage your changing body. That did make sense - my 10-year-old self who still thought boys were yucky didn't need to know much more than if a penis goes in your vagina you might get pregnant. However, because of this necessary focus on penises going into vaginas, and the tacit and societal implication that sex is like the ultimate in pleasure, we came away with the idea that penile-vaginal intercourse is the ultimate in pleasure. (I know this is all very heterocentric, but that's how my sex ed was. And because I'm extrapolating from my childhood sex ed, this blog post as a whole is probably going to come out heterocentric.)

However, as we all know, you can have a lot of fun stimulating the clitoris and for many women it is more pleasurable than vaginal penetration. And we also know that penetrative sex acts are higher risk than non-penetrative sex acts. So if sex ed gives people the idea that the ultimate in pleasure is a non-penetrative act, they will be more likely to go for that non-penetrative act instead of higher-risk penetrative acts.

So here's how to do it: include the clitoris on the diagram. In my sex ed, we had to memorize diagrams of the male and female reproductive organs and learn the function of each part. Simply include the clitoris on the female diagram, say that its purpose is to provide physical pleasure, and leave it at that. Yes, it's not immediately related to reproduction, but neither are the prostate or the vas deferens or the labia majora or the fallopian tubes, and we had to learn all those. No need to go into great detail, just mention it in passing like you do the vas deferens, along with the idea that it's the place to go for sexual pleasure, all before most of the kids have started experimenting sexually.

Then when they do start experimenting sexually, they're going to want to spend some time on the clitoris. Not all time is going to be spent on the clitoris, obviously, because the boys are still going to want the odd orgasm, but girls who are after orgasms and the boys who want to be sex gods (as opposed to the boys who just want to stick their penis in something) are going to go stampeding towards the clitoris. And as teens tend to have more limited time and opportunity to spend on sex, the more time that is spent on the clitoris means less time will be spent on penetration.

There is a school of thought whereby penile-vaginal penetration is not to be engaged in before marriage but other sex acts are acceptable, and this overlaps a school of thought wherein people are not to be taught how to protect themselves from STDs. Mentioning the clitoris here would be particularly beneficial, because unprotected cunnilingus and frottage and manual stimulation are much lower-risk activities and are certainly safer than unprotected saddlebacking.

Simple knowledge of the existence and function of the clitoris will get a large portion of teens interested in engaging in low-risk sexual behaviours when they do have the inclination and opportunity for sexual activity. There's no need to change sex ed, no need to talk about technique, no need to change whatever values are conveyed. Just make sure that this one part of the human anatomy is included and labelled on every anatomical diagram, just like the vas deferens, and nature will take its course.

Things They Should Invent: language-neutral browser settings

A Google search led me to a French-language government page, and a dialogue box popped up helpfully noting that my browser settings had English selected as primary language and asking if I'd like to go to the English version of the page.

I can totally see how that would be helpful for normal people, but I was looking specifically for terminology that could be found on the French-language page.

I have the same problem with Google. It localizes its results to the user's interface language, with the assumption that if you're using Google in English you'd probably prefer English-language results.

Again, extremely helpful for normals, but hinders my terminological research. Every time I want to verify whether a term is idiomatic in a given language as opposed to being a calque from another language, I have to change my Google interface to the language in question.

Solution: a language-neutral browser setting. In the bit where you set your language preferences, there's a "Neutral" choice. Web sites read this and make no effort to accomodate your language preferences, instead letting you read whatever language you've landed on. Google reads this and delivers language-blind results.

The vast majority of people in the world could ignore this and go about their lives normally. But the few of us who need it could make use of it, and the result would be better quality translations, terminology, and linguistic research for everyone. It would also slow the anglicization of other languages because it would neutralize the annoying habit of US English being considered a default and enable us to land upon phraseology that is more idiomatic in other languages.

Things They Should Invent: computer snacks

Lots of people eat at the computer. However, the problem with eating at the computer is that if you're eating finger food, your keyboard and mouse get dirty.

Someone should come up with a way to package finger foods (chips, popcorn, carrot sticks, etc.) so that you can eat them without touching them - either through clever packaging or by providing a utensil.

What kind of jobs require a high school diploma?

Conventional wisdom is that you'll have better job opportunities if you finish high school than if you drop out.

What kinds of jobs require a high school diploma? Because of the way my job history turned out, I've never had or applied for a job that was specifically looking for a high school diploma. What kinds of skills that you learn in high school are they looking for?

Things They Should Invent: opposite of decimate

The literal meaning of decimate is to kill 1/10 of the population, but it has taken on a figurative meaning of massive epic death. (My theory is that it has taken on this figurative meaning because it's a really scary sounding word, based on pure aural aesthetics).

We need another word - equally scary sounding - to handle the figurative meaning of decimate by having a literal meaning that's the exact opposite: to kill 9/10 of the population and leave only 1/10 alive.

Suggestions welcome.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More information on inter-dog interaction please

Reading Antonia Z talk about dog park drama reminds me of a problem I've been having in my dog research.

I don't know much about inter-dog interaction, and I'm not finding much information about it.

Most of the information I am finding has to do with integrating a new dog into the household. That's not what I'm looking to do. I'm looking for what I need to know when I'm walking a dog and he meets another dog. Should I make my guy sit? Should I let them just walk up and sniff each other? Should I get the other dog's human's permission first? How much slack do I give my guy on the leash? What behaviour is normal? What behaviour requires human intervention? How is this different on-leash vs. off-leash vs. if one dog is leashed and the other isn't? (I've heard there are differences, I don't know what they are.) How do I protect my dog if the other dog gets nasty? How can I tell when he's getting nasty vs. just playing vs. attempting to mate? (Should I let them mate if they want to? It seems rude to stop them, but it seems like other humans would frown on me if I didn't intervene. And it seems vaguely inappropriate to ask the other dog's human's permission on behalf of my own dog.)

Ms. Z's article mentioned that puppies upset the balance in a pack. How? What should I do with this information if I have a puppy? What should I do with this information if I have an adult dog? What if my dog is little and there are big dogs around? What if my dog is big and there are little dogs around?

The information I have found googling dog park etiquette is either not about behaviour (e.g. make sure your dog is immunized and comes when you call him) or seems to assume that you can already read dog behaviour and know where the boundaries are. I don't know where the boundaries are and I'm not confident in my ability to read dog behaviour.

I've looked for this information and have not found it. If I had lower standards, I would totally assume it's all completely obvious when you see it happen and no further research and education are required. And if I had lower standards, I could totally walk over to the pet store and buy a puppy, who would then proceed to encounter another dog, and I'd be there with no idea what to do or expect.
This information needs to not only be available but obvious. It needs to fall into people's laps like the basics of crate training and sit-stay do, like the importance of spaying and neutering. I will get a shelter or rescue dog, and because of that I'll be able to ask his foster humans for tips on how he, personally, interacts with other dogs. But people who would buy from a pet store are also the people who are less likely to do as extensive research. So if information about inter-dog interaction is not made easy to stumble upon, these people with their store-bought puppies are going to be disturbing your dog park.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why do employers even allow employees to negotiate their salaries?

Conventional wisdom is that generally you should negotiate your salary when you're hired.

Why do employers allow this? I can't imagine how you would budget if you aren' certain what your employees' salaries are going to be.

Homophobia is going to die out

This train of thought is inspired by, but ultimately unrelated to, watching Ellen Degeneres give a commencement speech.

Ellen Degeneres came out in 1997, when I was 16. Will and Grace first aired in 1998, when I was 17. Both were crucial to opening my mind. It was huge to see that these people are queer and...they were there, they were people, not much happened. Before this, I had never heard homosexuality spoken of as anything but A Problem, but suddenly it was just quietly there.

I graduated from university in 2003. It is now 2009. The people who are graduating from university this year were 10 when Ellen came out and 11 when Will and Grace first aired. They may or may not have been old enough to be aware of queerness before these TV shows.

The people who are graduating from high school this year were 6 when Ellen came out and 7 when Will and Grace first aired. They weren't even old enough to grok the concept of sexuality, never mind homosexuality. No mental shift necessary. Their homophobic parents must look like Archie Bunker to them.

Ten years from now, my generation of people who were still young enough to have experienced this cultural shift in adolescence will be pushing a respectable 40. The majority of all adults will have spent their entire adult life with queerness as no big deal, and Will and Grace will look like a minstrel show.

We're going to get there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Things They Should Study: how incompetent can you be and still successfully run a business?

This train of thought started with Bill Hendrickson on Big Love. He's an idiot, but he owns his own successful business.

Then I started thinking about real life, and it occurs to me that I've encountered more than one person who is an idiot and runs their business poorly, but their business continues to exist for years and years and years.

How can this be? Someone should study the incompetence tolerance of enterpreneurship.

Then this got me thinking that maybe I'm grossly overestimating how difficult it is to run a business. It all seems impenetrable to me, but if these idiots are doing it, maybe it isn't that hard? But then if it were THAT easy, wouldn't way more people run their own businesses instead of working for someone else? Think about how hard it is to find a decent job. If any old idiot could just start a business, wouldn't everyone just do that rather than running around sending their resume everywhere?

Things They Should Invent: kiva for the abortion underground

Broadsheet talks about the lengths to which women in Ireland must go to seek abortions outside of the country.

One of the main problems is that it costs several thousand dollars, and not everyone and pull together several thousand dollars on such short notice. However, it occurs to me that a good number of the people who can't pull together several thousand dollars on short notice might be able to come up with that amount over the period of, say, a year.

What if there were some way to quickly loan money to these abortion patients? I can't think of any major lender who would do that. But what if it followed the Kiva model?

Kiva, for those of you who aren't already familiar with it, is a website that enables ordinary individuals to fund microloans to third-world entrepreneurs. It is extremely awesome and you should check it out even if you don't like my invention.

So to adapt this model for the abortion underground, anyone who wants to can contribute to a loan, and people who need abortions can take out loans that they pay back over a year. It would have to be more anonymous than Kiva, but otherwise it's essentially the same.

With Kiva, the money is credited back to the lender's account as the loan recipient repays it. For example, when the loan recipient pays back 10% of the loan, each of the lenders' accounts is credited with 10% of the amount that they lended. Most lenders immediately roll this amount over into another loan, but you can withdraw it if you want.

The system for the abortion underground would work the same, but with one exception: if you, your partner, your dependent, or your dependent's partner ever requires an abortion, you can withdraw the full cost from the funding pool immediately and with no hassle. Most people who can become pregnant (and, I assume, a good number of people whose partner or dependents can become pregnant) have at least given thought as to how they would go about getting an abortion should the need ever arise. Those who have the money do their research and go "Oh, so it costs $X? I have $X in my savings account, no problem!" then merrily go about their lives, perhaps keeping an eye on their financial arrangements to make sure they have $X liquid at all times. It would be practically no effort to put the $X that you have quietly earmarked as your abortion fund into the general funding pool, knowing that you can access it at any time if need be and in the meantime other people can benefit from it. The only sacrifice would be potential investment income, which in today's economy is negligible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Things They Should Invent: Cosby Show prequel

If I remember my Cosby Show chronology correctly, Cliff and Clair started sprogging before they finished their professional degrees. That means that the first few years were a madhouse. Clair would have been pregnant while in law school, she's articling and Cliff is interning and they have a toddler running around and another on the way, Clair having to take multiple and closely-spaced maternity leaves (in the 60s and 70s!)

That would have been way more interesting!


Another theory on why urban people seem rude to exurban people

Conventional wisdom/gross generalizations etc. have it that exurban people tend to think that urban people are rude because we don't pay any particular attention to random other people whose paths we cross, whereas in smaller communities it's more common to say hi to and maybe even chat with people.

I've blogged before about how I think this might be due to our higher density. I cross paths with 100 people on the way to the subway - I can't say hi to all of them, I'd be walking down the street waving and nodding like the Queen! But it also occurs to me that part of the difference might be due to driving/walking/transit patterns.

If you live in a rural area and you need to go to the grocery store, you get in your car and drive there. While in transit, you are in a car, and anyone you cross paths with is in a car. Generally we are not obligated to greet cars. People tend to greet individuals they know and I have heard of people in small towns who wave at every car, but I seriously doubt anyone's feelings would be hurt if they're driving along and the stranger driving in the opposite direction fails to wave at them. You're more socially switched off while en route, and tend to switch back on when you reach your destination. Once there, you switch back on and start talking to people again.

If you live in a city and you need to go to the grocery store, you walk. While in transit, you are on foot, and anyone you cross paths with is on foot. But even though we're crossing paths with real people, we still seem to have mutually agreed to switch off in transit because if we don't we'll never get any downtime.

Add to this the high density, and we're probably encountering but not engaging more people in a day than a rural person might encounter face to face in a day (depending on the size and nature of their workplace - it stands if you compare grocery run to grocery run, but to compare day to day there are too many variables). So then when exurban people come here, they get ignored by more people than they might even see in one day back home. That might make a person feel dissed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Slogan challenge

Apparently on Mother's Day in downtown Toronto, there was a march in support of funding for invitro fertilization, there was a walk to raise money for brain cancer research, and there was the ongoing Tamil protest.

The challenge: think of a slogan or chant that would work for all three of these events.

Whoever can do this wins at life.

The clearest dream I've ever had

I have record this one before I forget. It's significant because it was extremely clear, possibly the clearest dream I've ever had.

I was with some of my cousins in the attic of my great-grandmother's house, and we found a secret trunk containing an extensive collection WWI artifacts (uniforms, letters, weapons, etc.) that belonged to my great-grandfather. It was a very important historical find and would ultimately be donated to a museum. That great-grandmother's house existed in reality and that great-grandfather - her IRL husband - was in fact a WWI veteran. Given the clarity of the dream, I would be certain my family has a cache of historical artifacts somewhere, except that IRL:

- We already know about the WWI artifacts that great-grandfather left behind (just a few things, not an extensive collection) and they were donated to a museum already.
- The great-grandmother passed away at least 15 years ago and her house was cleaned out. Anything in the attic would have been found back then.
- I've never been in the attic of that house, at all, ever. And the cousins who were helping me were from the other side of the family - they are not at all related to that great-grandmother.
- All the artifacts were completely illogical. For example, the belt buckles were made out of wood, the in-dream reasoning being that they didn't have metal back then. The letters were written in some non-European language on papyrus scrolls with quills. The weapons (in this dream he took his weapons home from the war with him!) functioned on alchemic principles.

But it was so ridiculously clear, unlike any dream I've ever had.

Bad logic from Annie's Mailbox

Annie's mailbox response to a parent whose son's girlfriend doesn't have a curfew:

You might consider raising his weekday curfew by one hour as long as it doesn't affect his school performance, but giving him unlimited freedom is actually likely to create some insecurities. We feel sorry for Holly, whose parents give the impression they don't care about their daughter.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know that's the conventional wisdom. But think back, in first person, to your own adolescence. Think about the first time you, personally, didn't have a curfew, or it wasn't enforceable, or it was otherwise feasible for you to stay out however long you wanted.

Did you feel insecure? Did you feel like your parents didn't care about you?

I don't know about you, but I felt pretty much neutral about the whole thing. I didn't even feel anything strong enough to say I felt liberated. It was just "Finally I can let the evening's activities take their natural course without having to be home at some completely arbitrary time." Since then I have once in a while felt a glimmer of liberation, just like how I sometimes revel in the fact that I can sleep until noon and eat junk food for breakfast and no one will stop me, but overall it was a small sigh of relief that life was now more reasonable.

Actually, if anything made me feel insecure or that my parents didn't care about me, it was arbitrary rules. Arbitrary rules made me feel like my parents didn't care about me, personally, as an individual, with my own personal needs. It made me feel like they were trying to parent an archetype or a stereotype, or trying to pat themselves on the back for being such good parents. "You can't go to that boy's house unless his parents are there. Look at us, we are such good parents, much better than the parents who let their daughters go to boys' houses unsupervised." As it happens, they didn't have to worry about the boy. I couldn't even get him to kiss me. However, I didn't feel comfortable around his father and wasn't about to go to his house if the father was there. How could I feel secure and cared about with rules like that?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The problem with fake pashminas

I recently bought a few fake pashminas. They claim to be made of cashmere and silk, but clearly aren't because they only cost like $4 each. The fact that they're fake doesn't bother me - I bought them because the shape and colour was right, and I didn't want to spend too much money since decorative scarves are a new toy in my fashion arsenal and I wasn't sure how much use I'd get out of them.

The problem is that the washing instructions on the tag are washing instructions that would be appropriate for a cashmere-silk blend. Handwash or dryclean, both of which are inconvenient.

I know it isn't really cashmere and silk, I know it's really some sort of polyester, they haven't tricked me into thinking they're real and I'm not trying to trick anyone else into thinking they're real, I just want some nice colourful playthings. So why can't I have the real washing instructions?

Why is public drunkenness a crime?

Public drunkenness, a.k.a. public intoxication, is something you can be arrest for or charged with.


Selling alcohol in public places is legal, subject to certain licencing requirements. Drinking alcohol in appropriately-licenced public places is legal. Driving under the influence of alcohol is very much illegal. Drinking alone is socially frowned upon.

So basically, if you want get a perfectly legal and perfectly socially-acceptable buzz on with people who don't live in your household, you're going to have to be drunk in public at some point, even if it's just on your way home.

So why is this a problem?

If they're worried about disorderly conduct, they can charge people with specific disorderly conduct. Assault, robbery, harassment, disturbing the peace, whatever. But why make my tipsy walk home from the subway illegal?

Some might argue that it's inadvisable, and it may in fact be inadvisable depending on inebriation level and environment. But that's no reason to make it illegal!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things They Should Invent: short-term allergy medications

Most allergy medications are made for people with hay fever, so they last like 12 or 24 hours.

I don't have hay fever. However, I am allergic to cats, so I need to take allergy meds whenever I visit a cat's house.

The problem is that allergy meds sometimes increase my eye pressure, which is rather unpleasant. And it's rather unpleasant to have this side-effect for 12 hours when I'm only ever in a cat's house for a couple of hours.

Why aren't there any four-hour allergy meds?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Best tweet ever

My new goal in life is to one day twitter something as awesome as this.

Not that there's anything wrong with that

In society as a whole, the connotation still exists that suggesting that a man is gay or effeminate is a dis, or that suggesting a man is effeminate is a perfectly cromulent way of dissing him for being gay.

This keeps cramping my style.

For example, a while back someone in my office was going around asking people if they had nailpolish. (Q: Why? A: there was a tangle of wires and they needed something paint-like to mark them.) I later asked if I'd found any, and they said "I asked every woman in this office, and none of them have nailpolish!" My inner devil's advocate and my inner Eddie Izzard fan teamed up to come up with "Have you asked any of the men?" But my inner censor vetoed that on the basis that it could be misinterpreted as dissing the men for being gay. Even though none of the men wear nailpolish that I've seen, I don't think suggesting that they might have nailpolish implies that they're gay, and I don't think that implying they're gay is a dis. But an asshole would use those words with that implication, so I couldn't use them.

Then today I found myself wanting to describe someone as the grande dame of his field, but I had to censor myself because, again, it could be misinterpreted as a dis against his sexuality. But grande dame seems to be le mot juste - I can't think of any masculine or unmarked term that does that job, can you?

So my self-expression is limited because homophobes can't keep it behind closed doors.

How to end prostitution

Antonia Zerbisias has been writing about decriminalization of prostitution.

Some people want to make prostitution go away completely.

Luckily, I know how:

Improve general labour conditions so it's more worthwhile for workers to do something else.

Why would you stand on a street corner waiting to blow strangers if you could earn the same money plus dental standing on a street corner handing out flyers?


Let's talk about the word Tamil.

Tamil is an ethnicity. They are a people of shared ethnic origin who live in India and Sri Lanka. It is also one of the most, if not the most beautiful-looking languages I've ever seen.

The OED defines Tamil as follows:

a. One of a non-Aryan race of people belonging to the Dravidian stock, inhabiting the south-east of India and part of Sri Lanka. b. The language spoken by this people, the leading member of the Dravidian family. Also attrib. or as adj.

The concept is similar to Basque or Punjabi or Uyghur.

There is also a paramilitary organization known as Tamil Tigers. They define themselves as a liberation army, others consider them a terrorist group.

In any case, here's the important part:

Not all Tamils are Tamil Tigers.

It's probably safe to assume that most, if not all, Tamil Tigers are Tamil. However, not every Tamil is a member of the Tamil Tigers. In fact, I'd hazard based on pure demographics that the majority of Tamil people are not involved in the Tamil Tigers at all.


  1. In Quebec, there is a political party called the Parti Québécois. In the mid-90s, they were working to separate Quebec from Canada. However, not all Québécois want to separate Quebec from Canada. (In fact, as I recall, 51% of them didn't).

  2. In the UK, there is a political party called the British National Party that is opposed to immigration. However, that does not mean that every British person is opposed to immigration.

  3. In Ireland, there either is or was an organization called the Irish Republican Army that would bomb things. However, that does not mean that every Irish person is into bombing things.

I know many of us first encountered the word Tamil in the phrase "Tamil Tigers", most often in something that was negative about the Tamil Tigers, so our first gut reaction upon hearing the word Tamil is "bad!" However, it is simply an ethnicity and, like all ethnicities, is morally neutral in and of itself and encompasses all types of people.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And I'm back

I've been wearing high-heeled black ankle boots as my staple non-summer shoe since I was 15. A couple of weeks ago, my boots broke - the sole cracked and the heel was about to snap off. Unfortunately, spring shoes had just entered stores, and it was particularly difficult to find boots even though we had at least a month of boot weather left. So I was feeling frumpy in running shoes or mary janes while I tried to find a new pair.

Yesterday, I got a new pair. Today I wore them for the first time. It was like coming home again. They're awesome and comfy and chunky and make me tall. I feel kick-ass like Eve Dallas in them, even though Eve Dallas would never wear heels for everyday.

It's amazing how much better you feel when you're wearing your first choice of footwear.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wearing your purse diagonally

Conventional wisdom is that when travelling you should wear your purse diagonally so it doesn't get snatched.

But why would the way I wear my purse to walk around the streets of Toronto (strap over right shoulder, body of purse clamped under right arm) be unsuitable for walking around the streets of London or Paris?

You are SO not getting to third!

Yoinked, as usual, from Malene Arpe


The saddest thing about the character of Toggle in Doonesbury is that he lives with his mother in a trailer.

The man is a wounded veteran. He should be receiving enough of a pension or whatever it's called to afford his own place. If he needs to live with his mother for medical reasons or she needs to live with him because her house was foreclosed, he should still at the very least be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment or a small bungalow (whichever is most appropriate to their geographical area) in a decent working-class neighbourhood.

The strip doesn't emphasize this very much, but I really think for him to be living in his mother's trailer is truly a tragedy.

Questions I want J.D. Robb to answer

In the In Death books, Summerset is Roarke's butler. He calls him Sir and everything.

But a few books in, we learn that Summerset used to be Roarke's unofficial foster father. So when and where and how did the balance of power in the relationship switch? Going from being a foster father to calling him Sir is no small thing. Even if it is a kind of long con, it's got to chafe every once in a while. (And if it were a long con, they're still keeping it up in private. Summerset does actually carry out butler responsibilities behind closed doors.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wanted: someone who knows shorthand

There's a picture in the White House Photostream of a reporter's notes written in shorthand. I now desperately want to know what they say.

Things They Should Invent: temporary foster homes for pets from abusive relationships

Some people don't leave abusive relationships because they don't want to leave their pets behind. Shelters tend not to take pets, so if you don't have the resources to hit the ground running straight out of the abusive relationship, there isn't really anywhere for the pets to go.

Solution: temporary foster homes for the pets. People volunteer to take in a pet that belongs to someone who's in a shelter. It would be organized through the shelter, so all the person fleeing the abusive relationship would have to do is show up at the shelter with the pet, then they sleep at the shelter and their pet sleeps at a safe house somewhere.

The pet would have to live in a different neighbourhood from where its human was fleeing, so the abuser doesn't run into the foster human walking down the street with their dog or something, and for the same reason they might have to keep out of major dog parks. The pet and its human could get time to visit each other, it's just that the human has to spend the night at the shelter and the pet has to spend the night at the foster home. In fact, this could even work for households that normally aren't good candidates to foster a pet because they're away all day, because the pet's own human would probably be happy to come in and do midday walkies.

So the pet gets a safe place to stay, its human can flee the abusive situation, and households that might not normally be able to foster a pet can do so with the assistance of the pet's own human. Win-win-win.

Open Letter to GO Transit

Dear GO Transit:

As you know, on trains travelling westbound on the Lakeshore West line, not every car can disembark at Appleby station. You address this situation by reading out the numbers of the cars that aren't going to open their doors at Appleby and asking people in those cars to move towards the middle of the train .

These instructions are not helpful. First of all, not everyone who gets on a GO train knows where they are relative to the middle of the train. If the train was already on the platform when you got there and you walked out of the stairs directly onto a crowded and narrow platform, there isn't an opportunity to step back and take stock of the whole train. You just think "Oh good, I didn't miss the train."

Second, the order in which you read out the numbers of the non-Appleby cars gives the impression that people should move towards the back of the train. I can't articulate exactly why it does this, but there were three other people on the train - all competent adults and native speakers of English - who got this impression as well, and waiting for the train home I met two more who had had the same problem on their outbound train. We all found ourselves at the back of the backmost car, staring through the inter-car door at a locomotive, entirely uncertain whether we'd ever be able to get off this train. There then followed a frantic sprint back towards the front of the train, through four moving train cars (and some of us find walking between moving train cars kind of scary), me in dress up shoes that I didn't expect to be sprinting through a moving train in, entirely uncertain whether we'd a) ever make it in time and b) were even running in the right direction. We did make it, but if there had been luggage or reduced mobility or small children, someone would have been left behind.

The people most likely to misinterpret your instructions are those who don't travel that line or that station on a regular basis. These are also going to be the passengers least equipped to find their way if they end up getting off at the wrong station. You get it wrong for these people, you've stranded them somewhere completely unfamiliar and likely ruined their day (and interfered with the plans of whomever or whatever they were going out to a strange city for).

So what you need to do is:

1. Instruct these passengers to move towards the front (or, if applicable in other situations, towards the back) of the train even if their ultimate destination is the middle, giving them the number of the first safe car so they know when to stop. It's better to have people wandering a car or two past the middle in the right direction than to send them off even further in the wrong direction.

2. Read out the numbers of the non-Appleby cars in the opposite order of what you've been doing. Just do it. If six people that I encountered yesterday were confused by it, others will be too.


The girl who now has blisters

Friday, May 08, 2009

Louise Marie Longhairs

Quite a while back I googled upon the fact that one of the few hairdressers specializing in long hair is right here in Toronto. Last time I visited a hairdresser (as a child) I came away looking like a boy. Since then I've been growing my hair extremely long to assert my femininity and eschewing all hairdressers. But, pushing 30, I was starting to think I might want better than just plain length with the split ends trimmed off by myself or my mother.

However, I was hesitant. Surely the website copy is hyperbole. Surely she has posted only positive testimonials and culled out all the negative ones (who knows how many there are?) And what's up with wanting to sell me all these pricey products? But I kept fixating on the idea, so I decided to give it a try. Worst case I'm out a bit of money and I'll stop fixating. So, last December, I went. The first time I'd been to a hairdresser in over two decades.

First thing that struck me is it's safe. No cooler-than-thou, no drama, you can talk frankly and realistically. Even the physical environment is safe. There's only one chair so you get her full attention, and it's set up so that passers-by can't see into the windows. (The idea of getting my hair done in full view of passers-by has always weirded me out). As we chatted, she accepted that my hair is in fact oily and straight. I've had so many people tell me "It isn't really oily, you just need to wash it less!" or "It isn't really straight, you just need to scrunch it!" that it's a relief to be taken at my word. She does want you to use her products (which do do what they say they do), but apart from that there's no pressure. As her site implies, she does recommend dietary/lifestyle changes, but she doesn't pressure. She informs me of stuff and if I'm not immediately into it, it's up to me to come to her if I change my mind. It's the Ani Difranco take what you can use and leave the rest approach.

So now you're thinking "Okay, but what did she do for your hair?"

I noticed results instantly, and I was able to duplicate them at home. Before I used her system, my hair would go hopelessly oily about 16 hours after I washed it. If I wanted to go to work in the morning then go out at night, I'd have to wash after work so my hair would look civilized at 11 pm. With LML's products, I wake up in the morning and it still looks civilized. It now takes 32 hours to go hopeless, so strictly speaking for the first time in my life I could get away with skipping a day. My hair was immediately less flat at the scalp, and it's been constantly improving as I continue to work on it. Length has increased noticeably, and I have brand new growth that is already two or three inches long.

The cut itself led my co-worker to ask me "Um...this is going to sound really weird...but did your hair just get longer or something?" I can now wear it down much more readily, and it moves quite interestingly (which is something I'd never given any thought to before). I feel generally sexier now, and more confident in my hair's ability to fulfill its various functions. In my professional life, it looks like it's on purpose rather than a result of benign neglect, and in my personal life it's better able to serve as a tool for seduction.

What I really appreciate about these products (and never would have ever expected) is if you do it wrong they still help your hair. It doesn't wreck anything, the results were just suboptimal. For weeks I was conditioning wrong but still noticing improvements in my hair. When I started conditioning right, it just started improving faster and more.

All these results aren't effortless. You have to put thought into your morning hair routine, you have to do some things differently with these products to the point where you're even retraining muscle memory (I can't tell you how many times I've done it wrong out of lifelong habit). It is work. But it does get the results it says it does.

This is an unconventional approach and not for everyone, but it is exactly what it says it is and does do the job to an extent I'd never before thought possible. I'd recommend looking a Louise Marie's website and seeing if it sounds like something you'd like. She wrote it herself, that is what it is. If it sounds good, go for it. If it doesn't sound like what you want, it's not for you.


My twitter feed should be showing at the top of the left-hand column. I suck at layouts and graphic design, so I have no idea whether this is a good way to do that. Any thoughts on a more appropriate location or how to incorporate it less fuglyly are welcome.

I wonder if Twitter makes people more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt

I've heard before people theorizing that twitter and texting make people rude because messages must necessarily be so terse.

I'm wondering if the opposite might be true - I wonder if extensive use of twitter and/or texting will make people more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt.

When you receive an ambiguous message on twitter, you practically have to assume the sender's intentions are benign specifically because of the restrictions of the medium. The whole thing would have imploded by now if people didn't. So I wonder if a person who is accustomed to that medium will be more likely to give people IRL the benefit of the doubt on statements that could be ambiguous.

Don't force our Olympic athletes to make a political statement

In what is possibly the most bizarre Parliamentary motion I have ever seen or heard of, a our parliamentarians voted that Olympic athlete's uniforms should include seal skin.

Regardless of how you feel about seal skin, the problem here is that they are forcing the athletes to wear a political statement. It is quite obvious from the motion that the goal is solely political and the seal skin serves no particular athletic purpose. So to have the athletes wear it would be to force them to walk around implying that they, as individuals, support the seal hunt.

Because it's a divisive issue, I'm sure at least some of them don't. And I'm sure at least some of the people who don't find the idea of wearing seal skin actively repulsive.

Our general societal standards are that Olympic athletes are to be admired and respected and looked up to. Elite athleticism is considered an honourable endeavour. These people spend years and years pushing their body to the very physical limits humanly possible to win glory for their country. Their diet and workout regime and entire lifestyle is taken over for their entire young adult life to serve the purpose of winning medals for Canada. Even if, like me, you aren't so very into sports or nationalism, you can at least see why our political policy and our parliamentarians should be treating our Olympic athletes with respect.

But instead they want to force them to be human billboards for a political statement that they may not agree with - that they may even find repulsive. They might be forcing some of them to choose between their own personal morals and competing in this elite competition that they've spent years training for. This is no way to treat people who have devoted literally their whole lives to what our society considers a laudable and praiseworthy achievement, whose success is considered to reflect well on us all.

If it really is necessary to use the Olympics to promote seal products, they can sell them there among the souvenirs. They can give them away to visitors so people can see how awesome they apparently are. They can hand out literature justifying how being clubbed on the head with a scary pointy thing is really quite a humane way to die. While not everyone would be thrilled with these steps, they are valid ways to achieve that goal.

But using the athletes as human billboards to make a political statement, putting them in a position where they have to imply that they agree with that statement, is completely inappropriate and disrespectful of the athletes as human beings.

Toronto moment

Based on a snippet of conversation I overheard between two subway drivers, I believe the following occurred on the TTC yesterday morning.

1. A lady accidentally left her umbrella on a train.
2. Lady called the TTC asking after it.
3. Someone on a train found it - either a TTC worker found it or a passenger turned it in.
4. Someone at the TTC coordinated with the lady to determine that it was most convenient for her to pick it up at Finch station.
5. A subway driver took it with him on his train up to Finch station, with the intention of giving it to the collector booth for the lady to pick up.

I got on at Eg where the train was switching drivers, and I overheard the outgoing driver debrief the incoming driver on the umbrella situation, giving her instructions to take it to the collector at Finch so its owner could pick it up.

I'm impressed by all this because it was an ordinary everyday umbrella - the kind that's for sale for a few dollars on those racks that pop up on rainy days at every supermarket and drugstore and corner store and subway station vendor, the kind that's totally going to blow inside out and be ruined within the next two storms. If I had lost that kind of umbrella, I'd just shrug my shoulders and tried to find another one before I had to go back out in the rain, and I think most people would react that way. But the two drivers I saw treated the situation with complete and total respect, without a hint that there was anything unusual about going to all this effort for a cheap umbrella. And based on logistics I'd assume there were at least three other TTC people involved (the person the lady reported the missing umbrella to, the person who found the umbrella, the Finch collector) all of whom must also have been treating the situation with respect.

Very cool.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ethical pondering of the moment

I wonder how ethical/unethical it is to mention (when the opportunity presents itself naturally in conversation) that I'm childfree to increase my perceived employability?

It isn't so much an issue with my current employer and perhaps not in the profession as a whole (it would certainly be foolish to discriminate against maternity in a female-dominated profession that claims to desperately need an infusion of young professionals), but I've read several things lately where employers discriminate against maternity, and it occurred to me that my childfree status could be an asset. Up until now I'd been keeping it a bit quiet, because I always thought people perceived it as immaturity.

On one hand, I shouldn't be facilitating discrimination against maternity. On the other, it could be a tipping point in my favour.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Me and my problems

I had some music on, grooving to the music, about to wash my face. As part of grooving to the music, I moved the hand that contained my face scrub, and some of the soap went flying into my eye.

Long story short, I had to cry to get it out. I can't cry on demand - it has to be induced emotionally or by chopping onions. I don't have any whole onions, and going out to buy onions during a rainstorm at night when you can't open your eyes isn't especially convenient. So I've spent the past hour making myself an emotional wreck and crying out all the tears that I have in me. Now it's my bed time and I still have to hang up my wet laundry, take out the garbage, prep my face, hair, teeth and ears for bed, and regain my emotional equilibrium.

There's something egregiously wrong with our classification system

A chihuahua and a St. Bernard can both rightfully be called dogs.

And yet a clemintine cannot rightfully be called an orange.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is there sign language for "Excuse me"?

There was a group of people speaking (is speaking the right verb? If not, what is?) sign language and blocking the door to the subway station. I found myself trying to remember the sign for "Excuse me" so I could ask them nicely to move. Then I realized that if I could get their attention to sign at them, I wouldn't need to ask them to move because they'd see me trying to come through the door.

It then occurred to me that that would also apply for the "Please give me your attention" meaning of "Excuse me". You tap them on the shoulder or something, then you have their attention and the "Excuse me" isn't necessary.

So is there a sign for "Excuse me"? If so, when is it used?

On Twitter

I am now impstrump on twitter. Not sure if I'm going to actually use it or not. If someone can tell me where to get a widget, I'll embed the twitter feed in my blog. If not, you'll have to wait until I have enough initiative to google it up myself.

The real threshold between Generation X and Generation Y

I was born on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y. More timelines tend to put me in Gen Y than in Gen X., but, while I do have characteristics of both, I've always tended to identify more with Gen X.

Reading this article I've figured out why, and figured out where the dividing line between the two generations is.

Gen X was economically aware during the 1990s recession. Gen Y was not yet economically aware. I was (somewhat - enough for these purposes) economically aware during the 90s recession, so I identify with Gen X.

I hadn't given much thought to the economy before the 90s recession. What with being a child and all, I was far more interested in smurfs and ninja turtles. But reality as I knew it was that you have a job for life. My grandparents worked in the same factories for decades, earning enough to support their families. My parents and aunts and uncles went to university and got good white-collar jobs with benefits and pensions that they'd had my whole life. Then, suddenly, just as soon as I reached the age where I read the newspaper, job losses! Good jobs gone forever! Welcome to contract hell! People with university degrees flipping burgers and having to live with their parents! I couldn't see any way things could possibly ever change at all ever (I think we can forgive my 10-year-old self for not predicting the dotcom boom), so I read all this assuming it applied to me was well, and thus came to identify with the Gen. Xers who were currently trying to make their way in that job market.

So initially I was looking at the people in the Toronto Star article and wondering WTF they were expecting income security - they're about my age, why don't they remember the 90s recession? Then I realized, yes, they're about my age, but they're a year or two younger. That's insigificant now, but it was a huge difference back in the 90s. I was a 10-year-old reading about job losses in the newspaper, but they were eight years old at the time and not quite up to reading much beyond the comics. They don't identify with the 90s recession, and are therefore Gen Y. They're experiencing first hand the uncertainty of economic turmoil for the first time in their lives, while the couple of years I have on them made me economically aware enough to lose my recession virginity last time around.

But here's the great mystery of that article:

Generation Y grew up being told that if they were willing to work and study hard they could have it all: well-paying, fulfilling jobs that provided all the comforts.

Why were their grownups telling them this? My grownups tell me that too. They tell me that I'm smart, I have a university degree, I'll have no trouble getting a job. As though I haven't always had trouble getting jobs. As though I (and others like me) haven't had employers who don't want to hire me because they think I'm too educated. As though they don't remember the 90s meme of degrees not being worth the paper they're printed on. What's up with members of the Boomer generation who forget the lessons of the 90s?

Open Letter to "Need Help" in today's Dear Ellie column

From today's Dear Ellie:

I've been married for three years and am increasingly frustrated with my mother-in-law.

She has a gambling problem and often cannot pay her rent, or her basic bills. She has major health problems, yet smokes and is extremely overweight.

My husband and I help her financially when she needs it, but it's more difficult for us lately. I'd like to arrange an insurance policy for her, to help with the cost of her funeral expenses should she pass away. I feel that due to her careless lifestyle and health problems, she may not be around very long.

No other relatives are in a secure financial position to assist with final expenses. Or they'll refuse, since we're always bailing her out.

How do I bring this up to my husband? How do we talk to my mother-in-law about signing a policy for funeral coverage?

I cannot take one out on her without her knowledge. I feel my husband should be the one to talk to her. When I've mentioned this before, he got very angry and didn't want to discuss it. I'm just trying to avoid a disaster, not looking to make any money off her.

Need Help

First of all, broach the subject with your husband by talking about funeral planning/wishes for after death in general. Do your own wills and plan your own funerals if you haven't already. Bring up Baby Kaylee who was recently in the news to steer the conversation towards organ donation. Then once you're on that, ponder whether you know your own parents' wishes (aging parents, you know) and ask your husband if he knows his mother's wishes.

Then your husband can use the same technique to find out his mother's wishes.

Allow some time to pass and price her wishes to find out whether you can afford them. Then, at a calm and neutral moment, have your husband say to her "BTW, Mom, remember a while back you said you wanted to be buried in a solid gold tomb? Today I just happened to stumble upon how much that costs and there's no way I can make that work. Do you have insurance or pre-planning or anything?"

At this point she should either agree to insurance or take responsibility for pre-planning. And if she doesn't, she has been duly informed that her wishes cannot be fulfilled without some action on her part, so you're off the hook for not doing more than you can afford.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Leaving kids unsupervised

1. An article in Salon mentions in passing that Parents Today now wait for the school bus with their kids instead of the kids waiting at the bus stop unsupervised.

This made me think of Erica.

Erica was a neighbourhood girl a year ahead of me who would sit on the mailbox. She'd climb up on top of the red Canada Post mailbox and sit there waiting for the bus to come. I don't know why, that's just what she did.

Obviously, you're not supposed to sit on the mailbox. But there were no grownups around to stop her, so she sat on the mailbox. It was a harmless way of breaking the rules.

A lot of harmless rule-breaking went on at the bus stop. If someone had seen SNL or the Sunday Night Sex Show, they'd tell us all about it. If someone knew a dirty joke, they'd share it. People would apply the make-up their parents said they were too young for. People would eat the junk food their parents had banned from the family home. People would remove the toques their parents had insisted they wear. All against the rules, all ultimately harmless.

We'd also do other things that weren't against the rules, but you just couldn't do in front of grownups. We'd take a "Who's your ideal celeb crush?" quiz in Y&M. We'd bitch about our English teacher. We'd concoct elaborate plans for one of our number to Talk To A Boy. Harmless, not against the rules, but not for the ears of parents or teachers.

The bus stop wasn't utopia. The bullies were there too, and for this reason I wouldn't have minded if it was normal for parents to wait with us. (I wouldn't have wanted my parents there if it wasn't normal, but if everyone else's parents were there - or even if there were just a few supervising grownups to keep the bullies down - I wouldn't have minded.) However, I didn't feel any less safe than at school, and I do see its value as an unsupservised public space for kids.

So this makes me wonder what effect it has on kids to be closed out of unsupervised public space. When they can't sit on the mailbox, how does their adolescent rebellion manifest itself?

2. A Globe and Mail writer blogs about the difficulty of butting out of her kids' post-secondary education.

This makes me think of the value of OAC (i.e. Grade 13).

OAC students were generally over 18, and the OAC courses were managed with that assumption. Students who were over 18 could sign themselves in and out of school rather than needing a note from their parents for every absence. As legal adults they were accountable for their own education, and the teachers actually couldn't talk to the student's parents without the student's permission. As a result of this OAC classes didn't have the custodial element of other classes and didn't presume to be accountable to the parents. (It's possible that the parents of a minor OAC student might have been allowed to go talk to the kid's teacher, but it just Wasn't Done.)

Many students in my school started taking OACs in Grade 12 or even Grade 11 (for various reasons that I can get into if you're interested but are irrelevant to this blog post). I started taking OACs in my Grade 12 year, and becaue I was born in December I was 16 years old when I started my first OAC class. Starting at the age of 16 I had courses where if a teacher was absent, the class was cancelled. Where the teacher wasn't expecting a parental signature on my report card, and wouldn't give a parent-teacher interview without my permission. Where I wouldn't be disciplined for missing class, I'd just better damn well catch up and not accrue 20 unexcused absences. I was still in high school, still living at my parents' (and still expected to be), I just had full legal and personal responsibility for my own educaction.

For one year, half my classes were like this. For the next year, all my classes were like this. Then the next year I was in university, by which time it didn't even occur to me or my parents that they might possibly have any business interfering with my academics.

This may vary for people who are more mature or people who are old for their year, but for me OAC was a valuable transition and a key part of preparing me to take responsibility for my own university career.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Teach me advanced social skills

Sometimes people give me compliments that they don't really mean just to generally lubricate the social interaction. They are compliments that I would appreciate if they were sincere, but I can tell that they're just putting them in there to increase the overall postiveness, like how when giving feedback or critique you think of positive things to say and use them to sandwich the negative.

So WTF do I do with this?

Current musical obsession

I like the song better than the video, but the video is good too so I'm posting it.

You're a puppy! Yes you are!

I was introduced to a puppy the other day, and I felt the need to say to him, repeatedly and in a very squeaky voice, "You're a puppy! Yes you are!"

My new goal in life is to do that to some creature that is very clearly not a puppy.

Bonus: the relevant xkcd.

I just had the weirdest dream

I was at my parents' and there had been this giant snowstorm. The snowplows in the area consisted of only a giant scoop, like you'd find on the front of a front-end loader, and the driver would sit on top of the scoop and move the snow around.

As we were driving up the street, we saw this one "plow" trying to dump snow in the ravine. Dumping in the ravine isn't allowed. (Aside: sometimes they put up "no dumping" signs in places where they don't want people to dump stuff. Does that stop anyone, really? Because the general rule for the universe as a whole is "no dumping", so I can't see someone about to dump a load of old tires into a ravine being stopped by a sign.)

So this plow driver sees us seeing him and decides that we're witnesses so he has to kill us. He makes two snowballs and starts stalking us on foot with one snowball in each hand. Despite the fact that we're in a car and there's three of us, we seem to take him seriously. We all got into the house safely, but we knew that the dude with his two snowballs was totally going to come back and get us. Fortunately I woke up to a beautiful spring day before that could happen.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


It recently occurred to me that the vast majority of the career advice/guidance I received as a teenager were given to me not because the adult (usually a teacher) thought the thing they were advising me to do would be a good fit for me, but rather because they had the general idea that more people should do it.

I had teachers tell me I should go to college instead of automatically opting for university - and this even after I'd found the right program for me (which happened to be a university program). I think they were trying to address the fact that a lot of students in general feel like they "should" go to university, like it's the "right thing to do", even if it isn't a good fit. But I'm very well-suited to university, and this should have been obvious to anyone who he taught me (and all these college-encouragers were people who had taught me). Even if I hadn't found my niche in translation, I would have wandered contentedly through university pulling in A's until I stumbled upon linguistics and completed my degree there, then ended up in an on-campus admin job, using my tuition waiver to do graduate work part-time. Not a perfect fit, but I wouldn't know better and it would certainly be better than doing some very specific college program I have no interest in ("Do travel and tourism! You're good at languages!" "Do dental hygiene! It pays well!") But these grown-ups - teachers who had taught me and knew that I was strong academically - just blindly advised me to go to college without a thought to my strengths to mitigate the fact that students in general feel pressured to go to university.

Once I had chosen translation, one of the guidance counsellors kept encouraging me to go to her alma mater. It was not a good fit. The only way a first-year student could get a single res room in that university was to join a religiously-affiliated college (and she knew that I'm an introverted atheist). It was quite a long way from home compared with other translation programs, and I was very nervous about moving out on my own. And, as it turned out, the program was dying. It closed down in what would have been my graduation year. It was, for multiple reasons, the worst of my possible options. And yet this guidance counsellor encouraged me to this specific program over the others because it was her alma mater and I think someone at some point asked her to promote it.

When I was a teenager, it was fashionable to encourage girls to go into engineering. As a girl and a gifted student, I was made to do all these programs to expose me to engineering. The more I did, the more I disliked it. The thing about engineering is you have to make actual real stuff that actually works in real life. I'm not good at that - I'm clumsy and abstract and not terribly physical or kinesthetic. I'm more of an ideas person, which is why I have a blog category called Things They Should Invent rather than having a dozen patents to my name. But they kept "encouraging" me towards engineering, culminating in a teacher telling me (after I already had chosen translation) that I should go into engineering to show other girls that they can do whatever they want. There was no thought given to the fact that it wasn't a good match for me, they just pushed me in that direction because I was the target demographic.

You might be thinking, "So why are you complaining about this? You got bad advice, you ignored it, you found your path." Yes, but I found my path by a total fluke. If life had gone normally, I would have been entirely trusting these grown-ups' advice on how to pick a post-secondary program and find a career. After all, they'd all done it, I hadn't. It's just like how as a teenager you look to your elders to for advice on how to do a job interview or complete a tax return or parallel park. They knew me well enough that they should have seen the unsuitability of this advice (they're teachers who had taught me multiple times - often in very small classes - and supervised my extracurriculars, in a small high school, near the end of my five-year high school career). I trusted them to give me advice that appropriately took into consideration the things that I knew they knew about me. But instead they shrugged off my concerns. You don't want to go to college? That's just because you're biased - college doesn't mean you're stupid, you know! You don't want to go to my alma mater? You should, it's a good school, you know! You don't want to go into engineering? Don't worry, girls can do engineering too!

This makes me wonder how many kids are out there right now receiving completely unsuitable guidance.

The other thing that surprises me now that I think about it is the number of grown-ups who encouraged me to follow their own personal path even though it was unsuitable for me. This surprises me because my instinct is always to guide people away from my own path if I see reasons why it would be unsuitable for them. It would never occur to me when a teenage cousin, for example, is panicking because they don't know what to do with their life to nudge them towards my path on the mere basis that it exists or that I'm familiar with it. So I find it really odd that I've encountered so many people whose instincts in this area are the opposite of mine.

Things They Should Invent: listen to someone's outgoing voicemail without ringing their phone

The information I need is in this business's outgoing voicemail message. I don't need to talk to anyone there, I just need this little bit of information. However, they are currently open, so if I call someone will answer and I'll have to talk to them, thus wasting both our time.

Why can't they just give us a way to listen to outgoing voicemail without ringing the phone?

I seem to have awoken into a nightmare

My windows are covered in mosquitoes. There are probably two or three mosquitos per square foot over the entire window area. Fortunately they aren't big or grotesque enough to trigger panic attacks (and I can't see them at all if I take my glasses off), but I'm highly susceptible to mosquito bites so basically I can't go outside right now.

Does this mean the whole summer is going to be like this, or is today a one-day fluke? I don't own any insect repellent because I never go out into the woods or anything. Am I going to need to find a source for that (possibly illegal?) 98% DEET stuff we had when I was a kid just so I can walk around the city without being eaten alive?

(I know the 98% DEET sounds like overkill, but it was a lifesaver. Mosquitoes would come within an inch of my arm and then veer away, like like-poled magnets repelling each other. Considering that I'd usually come back from a day in the woods covered in so many bites I couldn't shave my legs, this was a godsend.)

Why do parents want their kids to play outside?

This train of thought was inspired by today's For Better or For Worse, but it happened to me all the time in real life and it's a trope you often see in comic strips and other media.

Parents tell their kids to stop watching TV and play outside because it's a beautiful day.

Why do they care? Seriously. Why do they have this need for their child to stop what they're actually enjoying and go through the motions of enjoying the beautiful day?

You often see this in older contexts where the kids don't need to be immediately supervised, so it's not that the kids' presence indoors is stopping the parents from enjoying the beautiful day themselves. In fact, in the comic strip context, the parent most often stays inside while kicking the kids outside. Why?

Puppy of the moment

I want to give this guy a hug.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Analogy for being incapable of faith

As I've mentioned before, the reason I'm an atheist is because I'm congenitally and inherently incapable of religious faith. My brain just doesn't bend that way.

Not everyone can grok this, so here's how it works:

Think of colourblindness. A person who is colourblind only sees one colour where a person with normal vision sees two colours. The colourblind person simply cannot see the two colours. They cannot be talked into seeing two colours. They cannot be reasoned, threatened, bribed, coerced, seduced or manipulated into seeing two colours. If they're crafty and a good actor, they might be able to put on a good show and convince people that they can see two colours, but the fact of the matter is they can't.

Another analogy that might work: if you're monosexual (I know some people don't like that word but it is le mot juste in this case), think about the prospect of being sexually attracted to the gender you aren't sexually attracted to. You just can't, can you? You could fake it, sure. You could even look at someone of your non-target gender and see intellectually why someone might be sexually attracted to them. But you just can't actually feel it yourself. Similarly, I can fake religion, and I can see intellectually why a person might engage in, say, Judaism or Buddhism. But I just can't do it for real myself.

What I'm still trying to figure out: are there actually people anywhere who can truly change their faith on demand?

Things They Should Invent: chocolate whipped cream

They have chocolate milk, so why not?

I wonder if people and pets ever have personality conflicts

You know how sometimes you just don't get along with a person? Like even if you're both doing your best to be as friendly and civilized as possible, they just grate?

I wonder if this ever happens between people and their pets, like you get a new pet and bring them home and find that they just grate?

Post your hand cream recommendations here

I'm looking for a hand cream that soaks in quickly (because I'm always at the computer) and lasts a long time so I don't have to keep remoisturizing every couple of hours.

Anyone have any recommendations from personal experience?

I wonder if there are acquaintances within large families

When I think about large families - like families with 8 or 10 or 12 kids - the thing that baffles me the most is that I can't imagine how someone could be emotionally close to that many people. For the kind of closeness where you're dependent on each other and you can't lie to each other and they truly have the ability to hurt you, I can't do more than five or six people max.

So within these large families, there must be relationships that are closer and relationships that are less close. So I wonder if any of these are acquaintance relationships? Kind of like someone at work whom you have nothing against but just don't ever end up talking to very much.

Things They Should Invent: minimum usefulness requirement for advice articles

Have you ever noticed that advice articles in newspapers and magazines very rarely contain advice that you haven't already heard of or don't already know? There are whole articles that give you no new information whatsoever!

There should be a manadatory minimum usefulness requirement for these articles. They should survey random people (random people within the target audience is fine - I get that the same advice might be new and useful to the readers of Seventeen but old hat to the readers of Cosmo), and ask them how much of this advice they did and didn't already know. If the article doesn't meet a minimum percentage usefulness to a minimum percentage of the population, they have to send it back and come up with something better.