Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I think smaller favours are bigger than bigger favours

Several times on the internet I've seen parents say that the difference between parents and non-parents is that parents would risk their lives to save their kid. Of course we know that isn't true - I think most people would risk their life to save a kid. A kid falls onto the subway tracks, people aren't going to stand there doing nothing. I once ran out into traffic to save a teddy bear tossed there by a baby who was too little to know better, and there were at least three people on that sidewalk also moving to go after the teddy bear. Poor kid shouldn't have to lose his best friend just because he's too little to understand natural consequences and the laws of physics.

So yeah, risking my life to save a kid, of course, no question. But no way in hell I want to have to wake up early in the morning and sit around a rink watching hockey practice.

You sometimes see similar things in the Star's Acts of Kindness section. Sometimes you get people telling stories of, for example, a little old lady who has these thuggish-looking young men living next door, but these guys totally helped her and called 911 and stayed with her when she had a fall one icy winter's day, and maybe even shoveled her walk for her after that. And these guys would probably be like "Yeah, of course, basic human decency, you'd do the same for my grandmother." But, at the same time, they might not want to turn down their music when they're having a party.

You'd totally do CPR on someone who you'd never kiss, or never even want to have small-talk with in the checkout line. If your friend had their wallet stolen, you'd totally press a wad of cash into their hand to tide them over until they can get a replacement debit card, but you'd hide the last chocolate bar in your office stash so they don't mooch it. You might neglect to look up from your book at each subway stop so as not to have to give up your seat for a senior with a cane, but if there's an emergency and you have to evacuate the train into the tunnel you will totally see to it personally that they get out safely.

So maybe the smaller kindnesses are more generous than the bigger kindnesses?

Why power centres instead of malls?

I read in Spacing (of all places) that they're replacing Centre Mall with a big-box power centre.

This has me wondering why power centres are considered superior to malls. (Obviously they are considered superior, because malls were invented/popularized first. They wouldn't have come up with power centres if they thought malls were superior.)

When you go to a power centre, you're going to only one store or to the specific stores on your list. It's set up so that you're probably going to drive from store to store, and you have no particular reason to go into any stores that you weren't planning to visit.

However, in a mall, you walk past a whole bunch of stores, and they're usually open onto the common areas with the contents very visible so you can just sort of drift in and browse casually. You see a shirt you like, you end up wandering into a store you weren't planning to go into at all.

If I were a retail business, I'd certainly want to be set up in a way that encourages passers-by to come in and have a look around. So why do businesses think big box is better?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wherein I receive an education

A conversation with someone who had a bit of a different upbringing than I did led me to the following realization:

I am politically aware primarily because I read newspapers. It's more complicated than that - I take in far more political information than just what's in the Star and the G&M mostly because of the internet, a good part of my ability to dissect and analyze spin comes from my job, but at the root of it all is newspapers.

I read newspapers because my parents read newspapers. We always had them around the house, I'd pick them up to read the comics and, as I grew older, gradually expanded to other sections of the newspaper, until I was reading the whole thing in middle school.

My parents read newspapers because their parents read newspapers.

I've always been assuming a certain amount of basic knowledge about political and current event just by virtue of being an adult. But I was talking to someone - a perfectly competent adult - to whom it never occurred to seek out newspapers regularly because they'd never had them around when they were growing up so they were never normalized.

I don't know what to do with this.


When Sim-Eve goes to serve hot beverages, the command is "serve delightful hot beverages." When she goes to take a bubble bath, the command is "take delightful bubble bath."

When Sim-Roarke goes to do these things, the commands are "serve hot beverages" and "take bubble bath," respectively.

I wonder why Eve gets "delightful" in her commands? I can't see any characteristics she had that might make her go in for delightfulness.

I only have the one household going at the moment and don't especially want to start another just to solve the mystery of delightfulness. We'll see what kinds of commands their kids get when they grow up. (Q: You're CF, yet you're giving a canon-childless couple kids? A: Yes, it makes the game more interesting.)

Things They Should Invent: internet karaoke server

Imagine if, instead of being isolated local units, all karaoke machines were hooked up to the internet. Then there's a central database of karaoke music (with paid subscriptions), with youtube-calibre bandwidth.

You could have, quite literally, all the songs in the world. That would make karaoke night interesting.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things They Should Study: the economic impact of rain on Pride

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I'm sure as hell not going to the parade. And I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that.

Pride is one of the events that brings in the most tourism dollars, and some of those tourists are coming from day-trip distances and therefore can easily stay home if the weather sucks. Someone should study the economic impact of the rain tomorrow.

New Rule: maintain mental "last updated" metadata

I was once in a conversation with a member of my parents' generation who had quite a number of very loud opinions on what constitutes responsible sexual behaviour. As the conversation progressed, it became apparent that they were unaware of the existence of dental dams, or that anyone had ever thought of addressing that particular need. Now this individual doesn't need that information for their own personal life - they've been married since before AIDS. They had all the sexual health information they need. However, it never occurred to them that this information may not be up to date.

We've all heard of things like this happening. Grandparents who put their newborn grandchildren to sleep on their stomachs instead of their sides (or whatever you're supposed to do now - don't rely on childfree bloggers for advice on how to avoid SIDS!) because that's what they do with their own children. People making declarative statements about how the school curriculum works based on what it was when they were in school. I'm probably guilty of this myself in ways I'm not even aware of. To use a fake example (because I'm obviously unaware of the real ones), I haven't given a moment's thought to HPV since I got Gardasil - I haven't had any reason to think about it. For all I know they have a test or a treatment now, but I'm still walking around with the assumption that there's no treatment and no way to tell if it's dormant but contagious.

So what we all need to do is be aware of when the information in our brain was last updated. You know how the files in your computer have a "last updated" attribute, so you can sort them by which is newest? We need to keep that in our brains, so as not to spread misinformation or make fools of ourselves.

Popes' names

Popes' names translate. Emperor Popeatine is Benedict in English and Benoît in French. John Paul II was Jan Pawel in Polish.

I wonder when they started doing this? It's hard to figure out, because we translate them retroactively. Pope Benedict XVI is Benoît in French, and we also call Pope Benedict I who reigned in the 500s Benoît in French. But I seriously doubt they translated his name in the 500s. I don't think they were quite so very concerned about localization at that time. So when did this convention begin?

Apartment listings: ur doin it wrong

For the purposes of a blog post, I was trying to figure out how much a three-bedroom apartment goes for in Toronto. So I went to a rentals website, searched for three-bedroom apartments in Toronto, and sorted the results by price, lowest to highest.

The first page was full of results that were impossibly low. Literally impossible - it wouldn't cover the property taxes on that property. So I clicked on some of these listings, and discovered that they were in fact for one bedroom in someone's house. They'd just listed it that way because it's a three-bedroom house. WTF?? Has it not occurred to these would-be landlords that the tenants are looking for how many bedrooms they'll get, not how many you have?

So I proceeded past these into higher prices. This set of prices looked reasonable for a one-bedroom in Toronto, but surely you can't get a three-bedroom for that little? If you can, my current and last apartments are egregiously over-charging, even taking into account that this is a better neighbourhood. So again I clicked on some listings that were representative of this price range, and found that they are listings for the entire building. Suites from bachelor to three-bedroom were available, and they'd indicated only the lowest of the range of prices, under "Starting from...". That's totally unhelpful. If I actually needed a three-bedroom apartment, I'd need to know how much the three-bedrooms go for.

Between these two issues, I went through six pages of useless information before I gave up. And I'm not even looking for an apartment, I just want to know about how much they cost!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The perfect mash for this week's twitter trends

(Aside: why do the police at 2:20 have the word "POLICE" written on their shields in English instead of Farsi?)

Shamelessly yoinked from Antonia Z's twitter feed.

Everything you ever wanted to know about same-sex marriage in Toronto

Presumably in honour of Pride, the Toronto Star's Map of the Week has all kinds of cool data about same-sex marriage in Toronto.

The argument for sterilization before marriage

One of the barriers people face in getting sterilized is "But what if you get into a relationship with someone who wants kids?" As we CFers know, that's a deal-breaker. We don't want to be in a relationship with someone who wants kids, period.

But, as we also know, some breeder types think we can be talked out of or are going to grow out of being childfree (we're not) so might enter into a relationship with a CFer anyway, only to write angsty letters to Dear Abby years later when they find we were telling the truth.

Therefore being sterilized before you've found your life partner is a good idea, because it serves as an automatic breeder filter. Even if your future reproductive plans don't come up in conversation early on (You can't exactly do "Hey, do you, um, want to go get a cup of coffee or something?" "Sure, but I'm not going to bear your children."), it will come up in the birth control conversation. ("I've had Essure, but we'll need condoms at least until we both get tested.") No one will ever be under the impression that you could be convinced to breed, and it will therefore save everyone a lot of angst.

Open Letter to Firefox

Dear Firefox:

Please let me have different Google accounts logged in in different browser windows. Internet Explorer lets me do that!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I recently switched to a larger purse, so I bought a larger umbrella. (Don't worry, it's not one of those huge ones that takes up the whole sidewalk.) My previous umbrella folded up nice and small, but it was a bit smaller than I'd have liked when open.

Today I was walking through a sudden cloudburst and thinking that maybe I should have put my old umbrella in my purse too, then I could give it to one of these people running around with no umbrella. Yeah, it's a bit small, but it's far better than nothing.

I've also been wanting to get one of those rainbow umbrellas that were all over Pride last year, but I'm not seeing them around anywhere this year.

So these thoughts converged to come up with the following:

Find yourself a nice homophobic community. Get a bunch of rainbow umbrellas - the size that can fold up into a purse. On a rainy day, send people out on foot with one (not necessarily rainbow) umbrella to protect themselves from the rain and a few rainbow umbrellas in their purse. Then they should offer their "spare" umbrellas to random umbrellaless people, just as good samaritans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sexy tune

Video is irrelevant, it's just the only way I could get a full embed.

I couldn't find a video of it being performed, but I picture the clapping/snapping/stomping rhythm section being performed as an intricate playground clapping game.

Conspiracy theory of the moment

Because I like making up conspiracy theories:

What if the LCBO was never actually have labour relations problems, they just needed a sudden injection of cash?

Why you need Anglophone translators, even for easy language combinations

Click here

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Analogy for why you might want a tubal even if your husband has a vasectomy

When reading about the couple who was denied a tubal even though they had two children and their family was complete, one of the most frequent comments I noticed was people saying the husband should get a vasectomy instead.

I know a vasectomy is far less invasive than a tubal, and I know it is a solution that works for a huge number of couples. But some people might still want a tubal even if their husband has a vasectomy.

Here's why:

Suppose some evil bad guy has given you a bomb. For plot purposes, you can't just put down the bomb and walk away - it is somehow attached to you in a way that you, personally, are unable to remove. So you call the bomb squad for help.

The bomb squad arrives and tells you you're in luck - this bomb isn't going to go off by itself, it will only go off if exposed to open flame. So the bomb squad goes through your home and removes ever source of open flame. They remove your barbecue and your fireplace and your lighters and your matches and your candles and everything else in the house that might produce or require open flame. Then they say "Okay, no more sources of open flame, you're safe."

Now, by strict statistics, the vast majority of people aren't going to be inadvertently exposed to open flame. There are no sources of open flame in your home, and if you ever see any open flame anywhere else, you're going to run in the opposite direction.

But you still want them to get rid of the bomb, don't you?

Labour relations

First two questions, then some worrying, and probably some other random stuff along the way because I'm not particularly organized today.

Question 1:

Price was uppermost in the mind of a woman who identified herself only as a bar owner on Ossington Ave.

"If I opened a bar in the United States, a bottle of vodka would cost me five bucks and I'd sell a cocktail for $4.25," she said hotly.

"Here a bottle of vodka costs $35.26 and I still have to sell a cocktail for $4.25, and I have to pay a 10 per cent liquor tax and GST, and I have to go through all these hoops for licensing."

Can any USians confirm that a bottle of vodka costs $5? I assume we're talking approximately 750 mL, which Google tells me is about 25 oz. I'm thinking if that was actually true, it would be far more common knowledge and it would be WAY more common to bring back your absolute maximum quota of booze every single time you cross the border. I've heard that it's cheaper in the states and people do bring back booze sometimes, but not to the extent that that price difference would result in. I blogged previously that media outlets should fact-check reader mail before printing it - maybe they should also fact-check statements like this in quotes that they run. It isn't right that a person should be able to get a statement like that printed as though it's fact, and decline to use their name in the process.

Also, I've noticed multiple times in the comments threads people pointing out that there are all kinds of great wineries in Niagara, and we Torontonians are probably just too snobby to come down and enjoy them. WTF? It's nothing against Niagara wine at all - I drink it all the time. It's just most people, most of the time, want buying wine to be a straightforward errand, not a day trip that you have to travel two hours each way for. Would you want to have to come up to TO every time you want alcohol?

Anyway, my question is: is it true that you can get a bottle of vodka for $5 in the US?

Question 2:

WTF is up with all the media reports of illegal dumping? This is the second day of the garbage strike. There is no scheduled garbage collection on Mondays. If they hadn't announced the garbage strike, people would be only just starting to notice that garbage has been collected. But on the front page of this morning's G&M, there's a picture of a pile of garbage bags described as an impromptu illegal dump. That picture must have been taken yesterday. If garbage collection had been going normally, that garbage wouldn't even have been collected until at least today. Someone here is overreacting - either people are going "OMG! Garbage strike! I must immediately illegally dump my garbage!" without even waiting to see if it resolves within the first couple of days, or the media is vastly overreporting/over-sensationalizing alleged illegal dumping.


Meanwhile, I'm terrified. Not by the strikes (although the prospect of a prolonged garbage strike with no alcohol available is kind of scary for someone with my phobias), but by the attitude of the public. There are so many loud people who seem so vehemently opposed to anyone making a decent living. They seem to genuinely and truly want all these people - LCBO workers, daycare workers, even garbage collectors - to be among the working poor, floating through contract hell. They seem to actively think that it's outright wrong for these workers to be making a decent working-class living, something where you can rent a small house in a safe neighbourhood, go to the dentist whenever necessary, buy your kid some skates for xmas and take them to Canada's Wonderland in the summer. This terrifies me, because if they want these people to be poor, they also want me to be poor. I'm far less important and have a far easier job than a garbage man! They just haven't noticed me yet because my job is to be invisible. (Yeah, I know, all this blogging doesn't help.)

When I was in university, I was earning under the LICO and living within that amount. I had scholarships, most of tuition was taken care of, but, like most students, I was really scrimping everywhere possible for living expenses. There were things crawling out of my walls and causing me panic attacks. For a couple of years I used now-defunct free dial-up internet services, living with constant uncertainty as to whether I'd be able to get online. I rationed my cheese intake, because cheese is expensive. If I'd ever had a dental emergency, I wouldn't have been able to afford to get it dealt with but for the fact that I was still on my parents' insurance.

I was happy then because I was living on my own for the first time, but I don't want to live like that again. I want the security of knowing nothing is going to crawl out of my wall. I want to turn on my computer and have the internet be there. Hell, I want to have a computer - like if mine dies, I want to be able to replace it! I want to be able to eat cheese whenever I feel like eating cheese. I want to be able to get regular dental care. I want air conditioning. I want to make birth control decisions without cost being a factor. I want to wear women's shoes and make-up and bras in my correct size. And, yes, I want all that for city and LCBO workers too.

I know many people in the world don't get to live at that level, but here in Toronto in the 21st century, it isn't really so much to ask. I'm not asking for diamond-encrusted platinum, I'm not even asking for a car, I just want to be able to continue to make a living that allows me these small comforts. But these loud angry people who begrudge the garbage men a paycheque that allows them to buy their kids skates will, as soon as they notice I exist, want to send me back to having things crawling out of my walls. I don't feel safe.

I'd like to see a study of the people who begrudge others a safe, steady living for a solid day's work. What do they do for a living? What's their financial situation and career history like? What are some examples of what they think are appropriately-compensated jobs?

Monday, June 22, 2009


A doggie adopted a wolf cub!

Dress code

Today was the first warm day of the year, so, like butterflies emerging from a cocoon, most of us wore skirts or dresses for the first time since last summer. There was a flurry of girl talk as we admired and complimented each other's outfits (many of them bought in the dreariness of March with a longing eye cast towards warmer summer weather), and the conversation soon turned to how each and every one of us, at one time or another, had been prevented by patriarchical or church oppression from enjoying the breezy summer skirt that we'd been longing to wear since March. There were stories of the indignity of being sent home from Catholic school to change, the humiliation of being forbidden by a father to leave the house, the dehumanization of being told you're going to go to hell because you look sexy in that dress, even a now-ex-husband who threw out a beloved sundress because no wife of his was going to wear anything that slutty in public. We were all very glad that we now live such liberated 21st-century lives that we can express ourselves with whatever pretty things we want to wear.

Because my profession is female-dominated and has a disproportionately large number of recovering catholics (Vive la révolution tranquille!), and because my workplace wants to attract the best and brightest of the profession, my employer makes a point of providing a modern, liberated, feminist, secular environment. In this spirit, after hearing our stories, our manager implemented a new policy to ensure that we are never oppressed again: now our dress code stipulates that everyone must wear a skirt that is shorter than fingertip length. No long hemlines, no pants, no stockings, no leggings, none of the tools our patriarchical and religious oppressors used to force us to submit by hiding our bodies.

Of course, everything I've said so far is a complete and total lie. I made up every word of it. We have no dress code (and in fact make a huge point of not having a dress code), we don't have epic girl-talk sessions squeeing over each other's outfits in the office, I don't know of any abusive ex-husbands who threw out their wife's clothes, it's pure fiction. It was hot out today and I did wear a skirt, but everything else is nothing more than a product of my overactive imagination and the glass of wine I had with dinner.

But think about what you were thinking when I said our dress code requires a short skirt. You were probably thinking something like "WTF? That's no fair at all!" You might have been thinking "But what if you don't want to show that much leg?" You might have been thinking "That sounds kind of lecherous and creepy." If you're lecherous and creepy, you might have been thinking "Cool! How can I get a job there!" But I'm certain - I'd bet real money - that you weren't thinking that it's in any way reasonable or helpful or productive or kind or in any other way good policy to forbid us from covering our legs.

By direct extrapolation, it is equally bad policy to ban the burqa in France.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Open Letter to Ontario Minister of Housing Jim Watson

Dear Mr. Watson:

I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister of Housing to draw your attention to a flaw in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.

Subsection 6(2) of the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act states:

Sections 104, 111, 112, 120, 121, 122, 126 to 133, 165 and 167 do not apply with respect to a rental unit if,

(a) it was not occupied for any purpose before June 17, 1998;

(b) it is a rental unit no part of which has been previously rented since July 29, 1975; or

(c) no part of the building, mobile home park or land lease community was occupied for residential purposes before November 1, 1991. 2006, c. 17, s. 6 (2).

This is of concern specifically in reference to section 120, which sets out the guideline rent increase.

In other words, if the building was not occupied before 1998, or was not used in the manners specified before the dates indicated, the landlord can increase rent by however much they want rather than being limited by the guideline rent increase.

The section appears to be intended to encourage the creation of new rental housing, which is a laudable goal. However, this noble purpose is defeated by the fact that the last time this section was updated was 1997 or 1998, when the buildings referred to in paragraph a) were brand new. Eleven or twelve years have passed, but this section has not been updated. If it is not updated with a more recent date or a time limit on the exemption, landlords will be able to increase rent however much they want forever, simply by virtue of the fact that their building was built after an arbitrary date.

Not only is this contrary to the spirit of the legislation, it also has a negative impact on Ontarians' quality of life. The vast majority of Ontarians don't get enough of a raise year after year to keep up with an unregulated rent increase for 12 or more years. This means that people in housing up to ten years old live in fear of being priced out of their homes with each rent increase, of having to uproot their families and relocate to lower quality housing - even if they're fortunate enough to have stable employment - because their rent is increasing at a faster rate than their salary and there's no respite in sight.

I know this is not the intention of the Act and is not consistent with the values your government stands for. Please amend this legislation so that the dates in subsection 6(2) will be updated regularly, or introduce a time limit on the exemption as in subsection 3(7) of 1992 version of this legislation, so that Ontario tenants and their families can enjoy stable and secure housing.

Are cultures with fewer social apologies less secure?

I previously wondered about socio-cultural variations in how people receive apologies.

Recently IRL, I had to deal with someone who (by my best diagnosis) was insecure in their own competence and therefore overcompensated by jumping down the throat of any interlocutor who showed the slightest sign of weakness - criticizing the interlocutor's methods, questioning their competence, etc.

Fortunately, on my side of the conversation I knew what I was talking about. You might have noticed if you've been reading my blog that I try very hard not to make unqualified declarative statements unless I'm certain - I always try to represent my certainty or uncertainty accurately. (I don't think that's a cultural thing per se, I've made a conscious decision to communicate that way.) In my conversation with this individual, I was able to rightfully use unqualified declarative statements at every point. This isn't false bravado or arrogance in confidence's clothing, I just happened to know exactly what I was talking about.

This individual was by some measures my equal and by some measures my better, and usually in this type of situation I soften or mitigate my declarative statements a bit out of respect. "I think perhaps it might..." or "I was wondering if..." when I mean "It is..." or "You should..." But knowing what this individual was like, I decided not to leave any room for argument by sticking to declarative factual statements. It worked relatively well. This individual doesn't like me and would very much like to question my credibility, but the fact of the matter is I'm simply correct.

So this got me thinking about people who take apologies as a sign of weakness. What if their motives are similar to those of the individual I was dealing with - what if they're insecure and looking for signs of weakness in their interlocutor? And, similarly, hesitant to throw out an apology as a social lubricant for fear it might betray their own weakness?

But sometimes apologies/lack thereof can be cultural. In Canada (or at least my corner thereof) you apologize when someone steps on your foot. The real meaning isn't "I beg your forgiveness for my foot having gotten in your way," but rather "I acknowledge that there was an occurrence and hereby express that my intention is not to be an asshole about it." But in cultures with less of a social apology, that may well be interpreted as the speaker honestly thinking that it's their fault for getting their foot in the way.

Similarly, when I normally mitigate my declarative statements when talking to my equals and my betters, my intention is "I acknowledge your expertise and hereby express that my intention is not to boss you around." If there's a cultural aspect to this (which I think there is - from what I've seen on British TV shows they mitigate more than we do), people from less-mitigating cultures might interpret it as a sign that I'm not confident in my statements.

So I'm thinking about all this, and I'm thinking about how I had to suppress my natural mitigation tendencies to communicate with an individual who is insecure and defensive about their own competence, and it occurs to me: what if people who live in cultures with fewer social apologies/less mitigation of declarative statements are less confident and/or secure? And, if this does end up being the case, which is the cause and which is the effect?

It's a longshot, I know, to make cultural generalizations about insecurity and confidence, but that's where this train of thought landed.

Tangental to thinking about sick leave

The real tragedy is that the people who are least likely to be able to afford to lose income are in the jobs that are most likely to not have any provision for paid sick leave. Jobs that pay enough money that you can accrue a bit of savings and if you missed a day's pay it wouldn't be a huge problem are also jobs that are more likely to have paid sick leave or to allow you to massage your schedule a bit for a doctor's appointment.

New Rule: you block information, you lose

This train of thought started with the thing in the news recently where parents in Alberta could pull their kid from the classroom if they didn't like what was being talked about. It occurred to me that from the perspective of getting your kid to live your values in the long term, it would be more effective to talk about and refute what was being discussed in the classroom.

Then I read about how the Iranian government is trying to block people's access to the internet and twitter. So I look on twitter, and what's being posted there (at least on the English side - I can't read Farsi)? First aid information, the equivalent of headline news, amateur video of what's happening. Any competent government should be able to spin around that!

So here's the rule, applicable like Godwin: you block access to information, you lose.

If your position has any modicum of sense and you have any basic communication skills, you should be able to convince people of your position while allowing them access to full information. Readily provide them with copious amounts of selected information that support your position, trusting innate human laziness that they won't wade through google to confirm everything. Tell them about why the information they were given is really incorrect. Get some soundbites out there so they'll become conventional wisdom (like the 50% tax thing).

Blocking access to information should be automatically considered a sign of incompetence in the individual and unsoundness in the position they're trying to promote. They lose!

If you're changing your twitter location to Tehran

If you're changing your twitter location to Tehran, please consider writing it in Farsi. Not all Iranians are going to be tweeting in English.

I believe this is how you say Tehran, Iran in Farsi:

تهران ، ایران

It should be copy-pastable.

I'm not 100% certain - I can't read Farsi - but Google's Farsi interface doesn't correct the spelling and it returns results for things located in Tehran.

If the Farsi is wrong, please post the correct spelling in the comments and I'll update this post and my twitter.

Edited to add: It occurs to me that if you were actually IN Iran, you wouldn't write "Tehran, Iran" as your location. You'd just write Tehran, like how I just wrote Toronto. So here's Tehran in Farsi: تهران

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Things I've been told I shouldn't put first

The following is a partial list of things that someone, at some point or another, has told me I shouldn't let dominate/control/define my life or shouldn't plan my life around or shouldn't prioritize over other parts of life:

- work
- love
- friends
- the hobby that made me happiest (has happened several times with several different hobbies
- quiet restorative introvert time
- avoiding phobia triggers
- socio-political issues
- music studies
- language studies
- internet life
- my own needs
- other people's needs

Petition to open the Canadian Embassy to injured Iranians

You can sign here if you're interested. The petition is intended for Canadian residents only.

Fashion advice please

Normally I wear crappy cheap jewellery because I'm not good at jewellery so I don't want to spend too much on something that may or may not work. But now I need to get a few earrings in real gold or silver to keep my existing piercings calm and happy while I add new ones.

Yellow gold looks better with my skin tone and colouring, but it's old fashioned. People my age don't often wear it, it's more often worn by people my parents' age. White gold or silver is more age-appropriate, but doesn't work as well with my skin tone.

Which one should I go for?

Props to Centre Shoe Clinic at Yonge Eg Centre

I often get my shoes repaired because my gait wears them down unevenly and my shoe size is such that I won't necessarily be able to find a suitable replacement. However, usually I either know exactly what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it, or the problem is visible and I can just point to it.

In this case my problem was more complicated - the shoes felt vaguely unstable, but I couldn't really articulate how or why, and I couldn't see any signs of a problem on the outside. So I took them down to Centre Shoe Clinic uncertain if they'd be able to help me or even tell what the problem was from my vague diagnosis.

Fortunately for me, they're good! They could tell what the problem was, explain it to me in a way I could understand, and even tell me how to help prevent it in the future. It required major surgery that involved taking the shoes completely apart and replacing some pieces inside the sole to restore the shoe's structural integrity, but when I got them back there was no externally visible sign that they had ever been taken apart.

It's very comforting to know there's that level of expertise right here in my neighbourhood.

Analogy for banked sick leave

Suppose your employer gives you 12 days of paid sick leave a year, unbankable. (Q: Why 12? A: Because it makes the math easy.) You can use these days at any point during the year, but you aren't going to get more than 12 in a year. And if you don't use them all because you haven't been that sick, they don't roll over into the next year.

Now suppose your employer announces that they're going to restructure things a bit. Not a change in benefits, just purely administrative. Now, instead of up to 12 sick days a year, you get up to 1 sick day a month. You can use this day at any point during the month, but you aren't going to get more than 1 in a month. If you don't use it that month because you're not sick, it doesn't roll over into the next month.

That's less helpful, isn't it? We don't get sick every month, and we don't always get only one day worth of sick in a calendar month. Most months you don't need any sick days, some months you need two. It's less realistic, less fair, and rather arbitrary. And if your employer did work that way, wouldn't it be more tempting than it is now to call in sick one day during the last week of the month just because you're tired or you have a bit of a sniffle or you need a mental health day?

Allowing employees to bank sick leave over a career is better than having sick leave expire at the end of the year for exactly the same reason why allowing employees to use their 12 days of sick leave at any point during a year is better than limiting them to one a month. It is a direct logical extrapolation.

Careless reporting

The Toronto Star governs itself by a set of values called the Atkinson Principles. The second Atkinson Principle is Social Justice, and the fourth Atkinson Principle is The Rights of Working People.

I think they came perilously close to violating those principles with a bit of irresponsible reporting about city employees' sick leave.

The situation is that city employees' sick leave is currently banked, and they get paid for sick leave that is left unused when they leave their employment with the city. In the current labour negotiations, the city wants to take this away and the union wants to keep it.

There really two separate questions here, the second conditional on the first:

1. Should sick leave be banked?
2. Should employees be paid for unused banked sick leave?

Banking sick leave is not uncommon, although far from universal. As I've blogged about before, of the people I know who have paid sick leave, nearly all of them have bankable sick leave. This is a good arrangement because, as many people are fond of pointing out, sick leave is for when you're sick, and most people don't get sick at the same rate every year. Most years you only need a couple of days (say half a day for your annual check-up and then one day off because your brains are draining out your sinuses), but one or twice in your life you need a whole lot of time off, say for chemotherapy or major surgery.

With bankable sick leave, there is no other provision for time off for major medical conditions that require extensive time off. The assumption is that you'll use your banked sick leave for this. You can probably convince your employer to give you unpaid time off for major illness (in the cases of the people I was able to ask while writing this blog entry, the unpaid time off is technically at the employer's sole discretion, but realistically you'll get it), but there is no separate paid long-term disability leave. For example, someone I know worked at her job for 20 years with barely a day off, then one day threw out her back and required several months off to recover. Because she had nearly 20 years of sick leave banked, she was able to take the time she needed to recover without loss of income, then returned to work bringing with her 20 years of corporate memory back with her.

Whether or not to pay employees for unused bank sick leave is a separate issue. Some of the situations I'm familiar with get paid out or are tacitly allowed to tack it on at the beginning of retirement, others don't get any compensation for it - it's just sitting there as a safety net. In any case, it is possible to bank sick leave with or without paying employees for unused leave. It can work both ways.

The problem with the Toronto Star article is that they're presenting it as a single yes/no issue. They're presenting the pay-out as an integral part of banked sick leave, implying that to get rid of the pay-out you have to get rid of banked sick leave. If you look at the poll, they present it as a yes/no question, with no room for opinions such as "Banking the sick days is perfectly reasonable, but the payout at the end is a bit excessive." And, if you look at the comments section (I know, I know) a lot of people seem to be reading it as a single inseparable black and white issue.

My concern is that this article, especially with its somewhat sensationalist presentation (it was the most prominent article on the Toronto Star homepage all of yesterday, with the cartoon the largest image on the page), will lead people to become outraged at the prospect of up to 130 days' pay-out (which, as we know, people will be inclined to read without the "up to") and, seeing the pay-out as inseparable from banked sick leave, then write their city councillors demanding that banked sick leave for city employees be eliminated. Then our city workers will be stuck with a less just sick leave system that does not respond nearly as well to real-life sick leave needs, and all because of some unnuanced reporting from our city's largest newspaper.

How do older people end up with social skills that are no better than mine?

I know I have no place criticizing people's social skills because I don't have that many myself. Normally when I encounter someone who is socially awkward, I see where they're coming from and we try to muddle along.

But it occured to me that my social skills have been improving over time. I see someone use a formula I could use, so I yoink it and use it myself. For example, I used be awkward about leaving voicemails asking people to do something specific - I never knew how to end them smoothly. Then someone left me a voicemail saying "...so if you could get back to me on that by the end of the day, that would be great. Thanks!" That would totally work! So now that's how I end my voicemails. I do that whenever I see someone do something that would be a solution to a problem I have, and I'm slowly improving over time. It isn't anything deliberate, it's just the normal process for diffusion of linguistic innovation.

But I know people who are far older than me and don't have much better social skills. They can be like twice my age, but they don't often do better than me and in some cases do worse than me.

How does that happen? Are they not improving, or were they worse than me to start? If they were worse than me to start, how did they get jobs? And I'm not saying that snobbily (I've only had one good interview ever myself) - I know there's a certain amount of charm required to do a successful job interview, even for a position that isn't big on people skills, and I can't imagine that a person with my people skills minus 30 years of experience could do that. Did job interviews require less charm 30 years ago?

Or is it possible that society's people skills in general have improved, and any given individual stays in their place within the hierarchy? It might work that way, since everyone is probably improving the same way I am. When I'm 100, kids are probably going to look at me and wonder how I ever functioned in civil society.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Two of the things I need to blog are important. I'd would be derelict in my duties as a citizen if I did not blog them. Plus there's other stuff floating around in my head and sitting half-written in my drafts.

But I've been spending all day wrestling disorganized thoughts into a sensible and cohesive form, and I just don't have it in me to do this with my own thoughts. Plus my apartment's a mess. And I'm really overdue for one or two fussy girly things that involve spending long periods of time in the bathroom. Posh problems, I know, but there we go.

Here's a picture of a baby armadillo drinking from a bottle. Which caused the google ads that seem to have suddenly appeared on blogger to try to sell me baby formula. So I'm going to loudly insert the world childfree here. CHILDFREE!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Has anyone bothered to question the nature of military life?

This train of thought started here but veered widely off and is now almost entirely unrelated.

Military training - and by extension military life - is intentionally dehumanizing. We've all seen boot camp movies, we all have a general idea of how it works. They break you down through humiliation and dehumanization then build you back up in the image they need. And then they own your ass and you go where and do what you're told. That's just how it works.

But I wonder if anyone has ever bothered to truly question and think critically about whether this is necessary? I think everyone tends to just generally accept that that's how the military works, that's what makes it the military. It's always been like that, that's what people expect from the military. But is it actually necessary? Are they mindfully doing it this way for a reason, or are they just doing it this way because that's how they've always done it? Is anyone giving this serious thought?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why children are obsessed with candy

I was trying to remember something that happened when I was very young. I thought back and retrieved the memory of walking around with my grandmother in her neighbourhood and she was telling me about the thing I was trying to remember. Like most memories, this one contained some tiny details. My grandmother was still taller than me at the time. It was one of the first spring days that year when I didn't have to wear a jacket. I could see the water from the top of this one hill. And I was thinking about wintergreen lifesavers - either my grandmother had just bought me some, or I was hoping to convince her to buy me some.

Then I realized: I was thinking about lifesavers, like extensively! I was so fixated on the idea of getting lifesavers that it's coming out as an underlying emotion in the memory 20 years later! As adults, if we want lifesavers we just buy some without a second thought. But kids can't just go and buy lifesavers. They don't have money, and if they do have money they still need permission from a grownup to go to a store, and then the grownup is there to approve or veto their purchase. So that leaves my child-self there absolutely obsessed with convincing her grandmother to buy her lifesavers (Should I ask outright? Should I play coy?) and/or the fact that her grandmother has just bought her lifesavers (Should I eat them all now? Should I save some? What will my parents think?). It wasn't something over which I had any control and I was entirely at the mercy of the grownups buying lifesavers for me and permitting me to have lifesavers, so it became this idee fixe.

And my grownups had never actually been unreasonable about my having candy! Looking at it from an adult perspective, my grandmother would totally have bought them for me if I'd asked, and it might have made her a bit happy to buy me a treat that makes me happy. And my parents wouldn't have taken away a treat that my grandmother bought me, and might have even come up with the idea of testing the theory that they make sparks if you bite them. But because I couldn't just go get them myself, because it was logistically necessary to ask for and receive permission to have lifesavers, they became this Great Big Thing in my mind.

So maybe if all kids has $5 in their pocket and a corner store that they could walk to themselves, they'd stop obsessing with candy (after an initial burst of enthusiasm).

New Rule: when talking about the social safety net, use factual quantities

Some people think our social safety net is far too generous and waste of taxpayer dollars. Some people (full disclosure: myself included) think it is insultingly weak and an embarassment to us all. Both sides think there's a certain amount of ignorance on the other side, so we never get anywhere.

Solution: Every time you express an opinion on a part of the social safety net, include the quantity of benefit provided. This information is not difficult to google up, and it's a quick and easy way of ensuring that no one in in the conversation is coming from a position of ignorance.

For example, instead of saying "I think Employment Insurance is...", you say "I think Employment Insurance of 55% of your average earnings up to a maximum of $447 a week is..."

Instead of saying "I think welfare is...", say "I think welfare benefits of $572 a month for a single person with no dependents are..."

Since you aren't ignorant, this will have no impact on your argument, but it might pre-emptively mitigate some of your interlocutor's ignorance.

Technical specifications: since this information is readily googleable, on the internet a precise number with a link to a primary source is required. In verbal conversation, you're free to round to the nearest hundred for monthly values or to the nearest thousand for yearly values. If your interlocutor has a Blackberry or an iPhone and wants to fact-check you during verbal conversation, that is specifically not to be taken as a dis. The whole topic works better when everyone has factual information.

This rule also has a corollary that functions like the generally-accepted application of Godwin's Law: if you give incorrect quantities, you lose.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Childfree for Dummies: Part V

Some people dismiss our self-identification as childfree because they themselves used to not want children, but grew to want children when they got older.

As it happens, I used to want children. When I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I had what I can best describe as a strong biological yearning for to have a baby, and even as old as 14 the idea held appeal for me. Nothing ever came of it because mentally and socially I hadn't reached the point where even kissing a boy seemed like a pleasant way to pass the time. But as I grew up and matured, I came to realize that it wasn't actually children I wanted. I wanted a living breathing visible sign to show the world that someone loved me, and when that desire met my newfound flood of hormones it manifested itself as a yearning for a baby.

Does that invalidate your desire to have children, making it merely a childish phase that you will grow out of?

Childfree for Dummies: Part IV

Apparently not wanting children is "bitter, selfish, un-sisterly, unnatural, evil."

Not all my childfree brethern will agree with me or publicly admit this, but I will tell you right here, upfront, that it's true - I am in fact bitter, selfish, un-sisterly, unnatural and evil.

In other words, not at all the kind of person you'd want raising children.

So don't you think I should be sterilized before some poor innocent child is subject to my bitterness, selfishness, un-sisterliness, unnaturalness and evilness?

(Also: Why do doctors who refuse to sterilize patients on the basis that those patients are too young and don't know what they're doing permit those very same patients to have kids?)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sign of recession?

I've noticed that this year an awful lot of father's day cards are about the stereotype that kids hit up their parents for money. Like it's always been there, but the proportion is way greater this year.

Unfortunately that's completely useless to me. I'm nearly 30, I don't go to my parents for money. And if something went horribly wrong and I did have to go to them for money, I'd be too ashamed of it to joke about it.

Actually, now that I think about it, a lot of the child-to-parent sentiments on greeting cards become less applicable as you get older. (At least on the so-called "funny" cards - I don't go in for the mushy ones.) Most of them are things that are applicable when all parties are sharing a household or when the parents are trying to raise children to adulthood. I can probably still get away with cards like that now, but it's going to be ridiculous 10 years from now. But I'm not seeing anything humourous that applies to child-parent relationships where both parties are adults in separate households. Do they think we all get mushy as we get older? Do they think today's elders lack a sense of humour?

Hopefully the greeting card industry will evolve in that direction. There used to be zero humourous cards that were suitable to send to a grandmother from an adult grandchild, and now there are a few. Hopefully cards for parents will follow suit.

What's up with people who don't realize that relationships aren't unilateral?

I don't know what advice column this is originally from, so I'll like to Childfree Abby:

DR. WALLACE: We have two children, a 17-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter. Our daughter is interested in boys and has been for over two years. Our son shows no interest in girls. In his spare time, he only wants to work on his 1959 Chevrolet that we bought him for his birthday. I do everything possible to try to interest him in dating, but nothing has worked.


The weird thing about this letter, and advice columnists reply, and the other letter and the comments in reply, is that none of them seem to be questioning the parents' premise that it's entirely the son's choice that he isn't dating and he need to be convinced of the benefits of dating (or, in these particular cases, of dating girls).

The thing is, you can't just start dating unilaterally. You need someone who is willing to date you, and they should probably be someone whom you're interested in dating yourself. But it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that one of the possibilities is that he might not have found someone in which there is mutual interest in dating.

I've seen this in real life to. I've had a number of people ask me why I'm not married (including a relative who thought an interrogation along these lines was the most suitable topic of conversation as we were sitting in the audience waiting for my younger sister's wedding ceremony which was about to start any second). When asked this, I always reply that it isn't something you can do unilaterally. You need at least one other consenting individual. The weird thing is this always - always always always, ever single time - seems to go in one ear and out the other. My interrogators often continue by trying to convince me of the benefits of marriage (which I am very well aware of and agree with them completely on) as though I need to be talked into it, completely disregarding the fact that you simply cannot get married unless you have someone to marry.

The other weird thing is I only ever get this interrogation in the singular. I'm walking around en couple but unmarried, no problems. Walking around alone, sometimes I get interrogated. It's never ever ever an implied "When are you guys going to get married?" When it happens, it's always without exception "When are you, personally, going to get married?"

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Apparently Canadian women are happier than US women. I don't know, I'm suspicious of happiness studies. There was recently one that suggested that money doesn't buy happiness as much as people think it would, but the methodology on that one sucked. They asked peope to estimate how happy they'd be a certain income levels and then asked them to rate how happy they are now. What they should have done is tracked the same group of people longintudinally, to see how their actually happiness evolved as their income evolved. Because personally, money does buy happiness for me - and I didn't even realize to what extent it does until I got a bit of money. I was happy in university - living away from my parents, my very own high speed internet connection, interesting job and interesting course work both of which I did well in. But now I'm even happier because I have air conditioning and a dishwasher and I don't have to worry about what's going to crawl out of my walls. I wouldn't want to go back to how I was living in university (it's been months since I've had a panic attack, and years since I've had a panic attack in my own home) but I wasn't unhappy then. I just didn't know how much better things could get.

I also reject the premise in the Star article that being happy is a choice, because I can't choose my emotions. (If you can and you feel like convincing me that I should be able to too, I'll need you to give me detailed step by step instructions.) I am happy under circumstances that not everyone would be happy with, but that's a matter of personal taste, not of zen virtue. I'm actively happy I have no children because I don't want them, but that's no consolation to someone who's struggling to conceive. I love living in an apartment and taking the subway, but that's irrelevant to someone who aspires to but can't afford to own a house and a car. Some people would say that not needing the things that you're "supposed to" want, and therefore not being unhappy as a result of not having those things, is choosing to be happy. But it isn't, it's just awareness of your own personal preferences.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ten days in Sunset Valley

In keeping with my latest fandom, my first household in Sims 3 is Eve and Roarke (who, because the game requires a first and a last name, is named Roarke Dallas - I think they'd both be amused at that). I like the way personalities are constructed in this version - you pick five major personality traits from a long list, and then a long-term lifetime goal based on those traits. The results are remarkably spot-on - Roarke is throwing parties and schmoozing with the guests while Eve is taking the opportunity to question those guests, then getting called back into the police station, and getting bonus happy points whenever she eats pizza. I also appreciate how the goals the characters want to achieve vary nicely over time. In the original Sims you'd reach a point where you just can't achieve any more, and in Sims 2 it would get rather repetitive. But here I'm playing with the longest possible life span and I'm seeing some nice variety in both short term and long term wants. I don't think I'm going to get bored waiting for an interesting want to come up.

My only complaint is that fast forward is slow! It's downright frustrating! I don't know if that's because of my CPU speed (it's 2.8 GHZ - the game requires 2.0) but I really wish they could do something about that.

The interesting thing is this is the first Sims game that I got right on the release date, so the internet doesn't yet have answers to all my questions. For example, I simply cannot find Willow Hennessy, whom Eve needs to befriend so she'll (assuming Willow is a she) will serve as a police informant for the Developing Informants challenge. I looked around the whole town and she isn't walking around anywhere, there's no Hennessy household, there's no floating turquoise icon showing her location like there is for the people Roarke needs to befriend, I have no idea what to do - and the internet doesn't know either. Also, I've been spending a really long time on the Cook 5 Perfect Meals and Build Muscles wants - way disproportionate to the number of points I'll get for them - but I can't google up any insight on how I might expedite them.

It's also a bit frustrating not to have access to the full range of cheats (I don't even know how to do the thing where you delete a Sim and their moods and wants are reset - I've found the Make All Happy cheat, but I can't figure out where to actually go to delete and reenter) and to Sim PE. I wanted to make the Kendall household from the Margaret of Ashbury books. That's a complex household - Roger Kendall needs to be an elder and his wife Margaret needs to be a young adult, but the game won't allow an elder to marry a young adult. Roger has two sons from a previous marriage who are older than Margaret (which is what makes that household interesting to play), but you can't create older adult stepchildren in the in-game creator.

But overall, if we could just have a patch to speed up the fast forward, I will be very happy and enjoy learning the ropes along with the rest of the user community.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Redraw the midtown Toronto electoral map

Click here for a Google map of Yonge & Eglinton. It opens in a new window because you're going to have to keep referring to it to follow along this post.

See the cluster of highrises? (If you're having trouble seeing the cluster of highrises, click on Satellite and remove the checkbox from Show Labels to see more clearly.) The vast majority of the highrises are residential. As of this posting, there are at least six more completed and inhabited highrises that aren't shown in the several-years-old satellite imagery, and at least three more under construction. There are a wide variety of shops, restaurants, services and amenities at street level on Yonge St. and on Eglinton Ave., and there's a subway station right at the intersection of Yonge & Eg. When they first built the subway this was the terminus, so it's been a transit hub for over 50 years and has developed accordingly. The result is a high-density, walkable, transit-centric, safe, convenient neighbourhood. As you can see, the highrise cluster is surrounded by houses, but since each highrise contains at least 200 units, we far outnumber the house people.

The highrise people define the culture of the neighbourhood - are the culture of the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is safe and convenient and walkable and high-density because of us, and we sought it out because it's safe and convenient and walkable and high-density. It's solidly yuppie but nowhere near posh because of us, and we sought it out because it's solidly yuppie but nowhere near posh. If you remember the Three Cities income polarization study, you might have been wondering what's up with that tiny island of middle-income smack dab in the middle of Toronto, surrounded by a sea of higher income. If you remember Poverty by Postal Code, you might have been wondering what's up with that tiny island of moderate poverty smack dab in the middle of Toronto, surrounded by a sea of low poverty. That's us. We are distinct from the surrounding communities by virtue of differences in income and lifestyle.

However, our political boundaries do not reflect this.

Our little community falls on the intersection of three different electoral ridings. Refer back to the Google Map, and turn labels back on if you turned them off earlier. Everything west of Yonge and north of Eglinton is in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence. Everything east of Yonge and north of Broadway (i.e. two blocks north of Eg) is in the riding of Don Valley West. Everything south of Eg west of Yonge and south of Broadway east of Yonge is in the riding of St. Paul's. (All these riding names link to Elections Canada maps. I can't seem to find a Google Map of riding boundaries and don't know how to make one myself - if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments.) We are in a distant corner of each riding, and in each riding we are outnumbered by house people. We are a larger high-density cluster than any other within the boundaries of any of those three ridings, but because we're carved up into three pieces we are a negligible demographic within each riding.

This isn't a huge problem at the federal and provincial levels. I've never felt inappropriately represented by my MP or my MPP, and I do feel like I fit in well with the general demographics of my riding. However, it is something of a problem at the local level, because when it comes to issues under local jurisdiction, house people and highrise people have different needs and priorities, car people and transit people have different needs and priorities, and people tend to prefer the kind of density that they have chosen to live in.

And that's the thing about Yonge & Eg - if you're here, you're here by choice. While it isn't nearly as rich as the surrounding houses, it's not the cheapest of neighbourhoods. It's not trendy, but it is a desirable location and priced accordingly. If you prioritize living in a house, you could get a house in outer 905 for the same money. If you prioritize a living arrangement that is convenient for driving, you can live somewhere further from the subway where parking can be had significantly cheaper. If you don't like density, you can live somewhere lower density at a significantly lower cost. If you're living in a highrise at Yonge & Eg, that means that you want a high density neighbourhood, you want a walkable transit-convenient car-optional lifestyle, and you either want a highrise or you're willing to accept a highrise in exchange for the high density car-optional neighbourhood.

But because we're divided among three different wards, we are outnumbered in each of our wards by people in a significantly higher income bracket who have chosen a different kind of neighbourhood and a different lifestyle. They're into houses and cars and lower-density residential neighbourhoods. They might live in Lawrence Park or Forest Hill or Bridle Path. They might care about lawns. They might not care if the grocery store is within walking distance. They might consider it a good thing that their street isn't busy. They're not after the same thing we're after, because if they were they'd choose to live in our hood.

However, because they outnumber us within each ward, they sway our city councillors on municipal issues. This puts us in the weird position of living in a highrise at Yonge & Eg and being represented by a city councillor who is opposed to building highrises at Yonge & Eg. We might have moved here deliberately to live carfree, only to find ourselves represented by a councillor whose first thought on any development is "but how will it affect traffic?" We sought out and rejoice in the benefits of our high-density neighbourhood, only to hear our councillor say "density" like it's a dirty word. We're cheering over the Eglinton Crosstown line, but might be represented by a councillor who is hesitant about it.

We are a community with shared needs and priorities, and, when it comes to issues under the jurisdiction of the local government, our shared needs and priorities are different from those of the surrounding communities. The entire highrise cluster should fall within the same ward so our community and its unique needs can be suitably represented at the one level of government where our unique needs are in fact relevant.

More information please: isotope edition

Why does only one nuclear reactor produce medical isotopes? Why don't they all? I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere in media coverage - if I've missed something, post a link in the comments.

Also, Medical Isotopes would be a good band name, as would Sexy Isotope Crisis. I think anything containing the word isotope would make a good band name. And also I just like saying isotope.

Isotope. Isotope isotope isotope.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things They Should UNinvent: connection fees for telecommunications

If you switch phone or TV or internet providers, you usually have to pay a fee to get hooked up.

If they really wanted people to switch, they'd get rid of these fees.

Is the US louder than Canada, or is Buffalo louder than TO?

For a long time I've noticed that the commercials on US TV channels are kind of loud and unsubtle. I just assumed this was a difference between the US and Canada.

But it occurs to me that the difference might not be that they're USian and we're Canadian. It might be because the US channels I watch most often are from Buffalo, and the Canadian channels I watch most are from Toronto. Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, whereas Buffalo is smaller and is more of a local centre. So TO is more likely to be able to attract top advertising dollars and talent to make sleek and clever commercials.

What do you think?

Monday, June 08, 2009

I wonder if shoplifting will increase as reuseable shopping bags become more common

The other day, I was carrying around a big reuseable shopping bag full of all kinds of things. There were a few bottles of wine, several bottles of hair products, and a couple of library books. It was close to full, awkwardly-shaped, heavy, and rattling. When I put it in a small shopping cart at Dominion, it took up nearly the whole cart.

Then it occurred to me that it would be the easiest thing ever to shoplift with that thing. I select something off the shelf, put it in my cart with no particular care, it could easily end up in the bag by accident. It wouldn't be readily noticeable to myself or others, and it could totally plausibly happen by accident. I could go through the checkout with an assortment of cheap groceries, have one or two expensive things accidentally fall into my bag, and claim "Oh, shit, terribly sorry, it was a total accident, of course I'll pay for those!" if called out on it.

If you're using one of those stiffer rectangular bags that stores keep trying to sell you for a dollar, you could totally walk around with it heavy and full, put it down on the ground as you browse the cosmetics shelf, then accidentally knock things over and have one or two of them land in the bag. The bag is there, wide open. Putting it down is perfectly natural if it's heavy. And I don't know about you, but I accidentally knock stuff down half the time I shop for make-up.

I wonder if stores have noticed a difference in shoplifting rates since people started carrying around these behemoths.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mashup bunny: Dion vs. Dion

From the retro files, someone should mash up The Wanderer vs. Runaround Sue

If they wouldn't work as a mash, you could totally tweak the tempo (and the key if necessary) and combine them in an a capella or barbershop arrangment.

A pillow between your knees

The past few months I've taken to sleeping with a pillow between my knees. It's SO much more comfortable, like exponentially so - my hips are aligned better and don't need to be cracked nearly as much when I wake up. If I'm particularly stiff going to bed, curling up in a quasi-fetal position with a pillow between my knees feels like one of those static yoga poses that slowly loosens your joints. I just lie there still and feel my hips ease and relax.

I've mentioned this to several other people, and those who have tried a pillow between their knees all unanimously agree that it helps in a way similar to what I've described.

But why? Why are we designed so that we're more comfortable sleeping with a physical obstacle changing our alignment than sleeping however we just naturally fall? That doesn't seem like very good design to me.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Things They Should Invent: kettles that go PING!

There are some kettles that whistle when they're boiling, but they just keep boiling until you come and unplug them. There are other kettles that shut off automatically once they've started boiling, but they don't make any noise to tell you they're done apart from the subtle click of the switch turning off.

I want the best of both worlds. I want a kettle that automatically shuts itself off AND makes a noise to tell you it's done.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Things They Should Invent: universal standard exemption from Godwin's Law

The problem with the generally-accepted application of Godwin's Law is that it assumes that a comparison with nazis is always hyperbole.

This is not necessarily true. I'm sure we can all envision, even if only hypothetically, a situation in which the best possible analogy is a comparison with nazis, and discourse would suffer from not having this analogy readily available.

Someone - ideally a committee of big-name internet people with a wide variety of political opinions - needs to standardize criteria under which a comparison with nazis is apt. If these criteria apply, people aren't allowed to shut down their opponents by shouting Godwin at them.

Open Letter to Dominion (aka Metro)

Dear Dominion, who I'm not going to start calling Metro:

I know that the thing with charging five cents a bag is municipal by-law and your hands are tied. And while I do resent being inconvenienced even though I came up with a better solution, I get that it isn't your fault.

However, your pratice of having to ring in the number of bags before you ring in the groceries is ridiculous. I can't always tell how many bags I'm going to need just by looking at the groceries, and it's more important to have everything bagged well for the walk home than to save a nickel or two. I suck at 3D spatial estimation like that. Just bag my groceries, charge me for however many bags were used, and let me get on with life.

Update: I've taken to answering the question of how many bags do I want with "Whatever it takes." I'd recommend doing the same if you feel similarly.

Perhaps I need some real problems

I am currently feeling guilty for not having been aware of Tiananmen Square when it first happened. I was 8 years old.

I'm also feeling guilty for using the fact that I was 8 years old as an excuse, because I did look at newspapers at the time, although I didn't have the focus/attention span/discipline to read most of the articles.

Currently wondering

With all the stories of extreme emergency urgent last-minute difficultly-accessible late-term abortions that have been posted in the wake of Dr. Tiller's assassination, I find myself thinking about the technical aspects of abortion.

Specifically, I'm wondering why the drugs that are used to induce labour can't be used for abortion in cases where d&c (or whatever the usual technique is) isn't readily accessible. Obviously, it would be difficult, painful, and time-consuming. But in some of the cases, where the fetus is either dead in the womb* or will die upon delivery, wouldn't induced labour get the job done in a pinch? If not, what am I missing? (I've never been pregnant, you might have to explain things slowly.)

*Another technical question: if the fetus is dead in the womb, will the mother eventually go into labour anyway? If so, why? How would her body know when it's reached term?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Fomenting public outrage: ur doin it wrong

The Toronto Star recently seems obsessed that private-sector consultants on the payroll of the Government of Ontario expensed small food items.

The thing is, as mentioned indirectly in the second paragraph of the article, the consultants were from Alberta, so they had to travel to get here. And in the private sector, it's perfectly normal to have your employer pay for your meals while you're travelling on business. I seriously doubt they could get any decent private-sector consultant if they didn't pay for their meals while on the road. The article is trying to suggest that they shouldn't be expensing their meals because they make so much money, but that's simply how the private sector works. Your salary is compensation for your work, travel expenses are considered additional expenses.

You'll also notice that they're expensing small and inexpensive take-out, eat-at-your-desk type food. You know what this means? They aren't expensing pricey room service meals - they're running down to Tim's instead. In fact, as it says in the 9th paragraph of the article:

Consultant Donna Strating makes $2,700 a day at eHealth. She does not take the $50 per diem to which she is entitled, but charges for miscellaneous meals and snacks.

This means that she would normally be entitled to take $50 a day, no questions asked, with the assumption that she'd spend it on food and other necessities. Based on the items listed, it doesn't look like she's spending anywhere near $50 a day on food. (Judging by the tone of the article, if there were any expensive restaurant dinners the article would have said so.) So rather than taking $50 a day, buying cheap food and pocketing the rest, she's billing for her actual expenses only.

If the Star wanted to foment outrage about this eHealth thing, they could have done so in a number of ways. Some other media outlets have been focusing on how there might not have been a proper tender process for this contract, which is a much more serious issue. If the Star wanted to take a different attack from other media outlets, they could ask why we needed a private-sector consultant from Alberta in the first place? We're a rather populous province with a good number of post-secondary institutions - why isn't the necessary expertise available in Ontario? Why doesn't the Ontario public service have the expertise to implement government policies? Does this happen often? Should we perhaps be working on developing the expertise in-province?

As it stands, the whole thing reads like an especially low-quality attack ad. I expected better from te Star.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Well this is a disheartening development

Sims 3 causes my computer to blue screen, just as it's about to finish loading the town.

I was expecting it to maybe be slow and frustrating because I have only the minimum RAM requirement (figured I'd get more if it was annoying), but I didn't see this coming and the internet doesn't seem to know anything about it yet.

I'm going to uninstall and reinstall, but if not I have no idea what to do.

Update: Updating video drivers fixed the problem.

Props to amazon.ca

Despite the fact that I chose supersaver shipping, my copy of Sims 3 arrived today, i.e. the official release date.

On that note, I may be incommunicado for a while.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Analogy for why introverts have trouble with small talk

This started in response to the comments on this Cary Tennis letter but got far too complicated for a comment thread.

Think of the pool of all possible conversation topics - everything you might ever conceivably blurt out - as a well-organized email folder system. The vast majority of the emails are archived by topic. These are things you can say in reply to productive and substantive inquiries. There are a few emails in your inbox. These are new things that you can introduce during a lull in conversation. And there's a bunch of crap in your spam folder. These are things that are completely useless in conversation. (e.g. "There are four light switches in this room." "The capital of Uruguay is Montevideo".) You hardly ever look in your spam folder anyway, it's all the Nigerian finance minister trying to enlarge your penis and sell you fake university degrees anyway. Sometimes you do go into your spam folder for a specific reason, just like sometimes you do need to know what the capital of Uruguay is, but the vast majority of the time you ignore it and it isn't even worth thinking about.

I think introverts have a stricter spam filter than extroverts. We have things in our spam folder that more extroverted people would consider suitable conversational openings. There are fewer things in our inbox, and some of the things that (by conventional social standards) should be in our inbox are in our spam folder.

For example, it would never ever in my life occur to me to ask a casual acquaintance about their vacation plans. The topic was simply in my spam folder, right in between "I have a hole in my sock" and "I had two cups of coffee today." (Yes, these are things I might just announce to a close friend, but, as I've blogged about before, it works differently for close friends.) When I read someone mention that as a possible topic of conversation in the Cary Tennis comments, a lightbulb went off. "Oh, THAT'S why people at work keep asking me that!" Because it was in my spam folder, I figured they were asking me for a particular reason, just like if your best friend sent you a penis enlargement email you'd assume they have some particular reason for doing so.

So where extroverts can just reach into their inbox - the first page you get to in any email interface - to find an appropriate topic, our inboxes don't have enough topics. So first we have to come up with the idea of looking in our spam folder at all. Then we have to sort through it trying to find something that's less crap. We can't give them just anything from the spam folder, we have to sort through the whole thing (and how much crap is in your spam folder right now?) trying to find the conversation equivalent of, say, a shoe sale flyer rather than penis enlargement spam.

And the other problem is, once we find the exact conversational nugget we need in our spam folder, we think "Hey, there's some useful stuff in here, let's filter less strictly so it ends up in the inbox!" Then we set our spam filter too low and end up with all kinds of crap in our inbox, and the next think you know we're walking around offering to enlarge people's penises. This manifests itself in the phenomenon of people who claim to be introverts going off on a babbling rant about themselves or their interests. Because all the stuff in our inbox tends to be stuff we're genuinely interested in, if someone treats one of our spam topics like an inbox topic we assume they're genuinely interested.

So unless you want us randomly free-associating and dumping the entire contents of our mental spam folder on you, you'll have to either tolerate our pauses or take more than your share of the lead.

Edited to add: Having been bullied adds another dimension to all this. My bullies would often ask me questions that would sound perfectly innocuous to outsiders and that adults with benign intentions may well use as fodder for small-talk, but the bullies would use whatever I answered as fodder for bullying.

For example, they might ask me what I did that past weekend. If I didn't do much of anything (which, objectively and outside the bell jar of adolescence, I rather quite enjoy), they'd mock me for not having any friends. If I did something with my family, they'd mock me for spending time with family because I don't have any friends. If I did something with friends, they'd mock me for the insufficient coolness of my friends or our activity. In the weird world of middle school, it was a loaded question to which every possible answer was socially unacceptable.

So because of all this, a bunch of topics that appear benign to outsiders are quarantined in my mental spam folder because they look just like emails that have previously given me viruses. After having been judged so often for my answer to "What did you do this weekend?" I wouldn't dare ask that of an acquaintance or co-worker any more than I would ask them "So are you a top or a bottom?"

Half of all marriages end in divorce? FALSE!

Statscan data (emphasis mine):

According to General Social Survey (GSS) data, divorced Canadians represented 7% of the total population aged 15 and over in 2006. In fact, divorce affects more people than what recent data leads us to believe: about 13% of Canadians aged 15 and over had experienced at least one divorce during their conjugal life, and nearly half of them had remarried.

More Statscan data (again, emphasis mine):

In 2006, more than one-half (51.5%) of the population aged 15 and over was unmarried, that is, never married, divorced, separated, or widowed, compared to 49.9% five years earlier.

If 51.5% of the population has never been married, that means 48.5% have been married. And, as is clearly stated in the first quoted paragraph, 13% have been divorced.

This means that 26.8% of all marriages end in divorce.

New Rule

If someone who has in the past demonstrated google fu asks you a question, you aren't allowed to tell them to google it unless you are absolutely certain the answer is readily googleable. Be prepared to suggest specific keywords when they reply that they have already googled it.

I have 20 years to learn not to be clumsy

I'm clumsy and uncoordinated and live in a small and poorly organized apartment. And I have a habit of dancing around like an idiot when no one is watching. As a result, I often trip over stuff and fall down.

It occurs to me that this will be a problem when I'm post-menopausal. I'll have to figure out how to work on it.