Saturday, October 31, 2009

Things They Should Study; how does cultural prioritization of self-sufficiency affect employment rates and the economy as a whole?

Further to my previous thoughts about cultural prioritization of self-sufficiency stemming from Big Sort, I find myself wondering about its economic impact.

For example, my parents think it's decadent to buy lunch at work every day and think people should bring lunch from home. I think it's an annoying waste of time to make lunch at home and much prefer to buy it. If everyone thought like my parents, there'd be far few fast food places, food courts, coffee shops, delis, etc. So those food service jobs wouldn't exist, so there'd be less demand for wholesale food suppliers and bulk purchases of paper napkins, so there'd be less work for commercial delivery drivers, etc. etc. etc. If everyone thought like me, there'd be more of these jobs. I'm not an economic expert, but it seems to me that it might affect the broader economy.

Similar, in my family we do our own taxes or each other's taxes. Taxes are done within the "tribe" (in the sense of tribe that I coined in my Big Sort post). If everyone worked like us, there'd be no call for businesses such as H&R Block. However, because there are people who think it's a valid option to pay someone else to do your taxes, this whole business sector exists.

Given the geographical trends in attitudes towards self-sufficiency, I find myself wondering if they correlate with employment rates. Is there less employment in places that place greater priority on self-sufficiency because people are doing for themselves or keeping it within the tribe?

The trick to studying this would be you'd have to control for the fact that urban areas (which place less priority on self-sufficiency) have more jobs as a matter of course. That's how they got to be urban areas. If you build, say, a steel plant, all the jobs are going to be at the steel plant. The workers probably aren't going to live right next door to the steel plant (they do tend to get a wee bit smelly), but they may well end up sorting themselves into certain other neighbourhoods depending on whether they do or don't prioritize self-sufficiency.

How department stores can get my business

Apparently department stores are trying to make a comeback.

Here's how they can get my business: organize the women's clothing section by clothing type, not by brand.

When I'm shopping for clothes, I'm looking for, say, black pants. I don't care which brand, I don't care which line, I don't care which carefully-selected marketing demographic, I want black pants.

The way department stores are currently arranged, they have a section for every brand. This means I have to wander all over the floor, looking at the pants rack in every single section. This is annoying and time-consuming.

Meanwhile, when I wander into Reitman's or Smart Set, I can go to the side of the store with the more career-oriented clothes, look at all the pants in that section, and that's that. Even at Winner's (which I also find annoying to shop because the racks aren't easily scanable), I just have to look through the racks labeled "pants".

So if you want me to shop at your store, put all your career wear in one section, and arrange the displays so they're easily scanable. I want to walk up, take a look, and immediately have an idea of the range of black pants available, regardless of brand. Then I'll happily go through the racks for the specific items that pique my interest.

Astronauts and dogs and Twitter

1. Astronaut Leland Melvin appears to have had a formal astronaut portrait taken with his big gorgeous dogs! I'd love to have been behind the scenes in that photo session.

2. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Ron Garan, currently in Moscow, found a stray dog...on a train!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why I am madly in love with Sheldon from Big Bang Theory

(Gloating: I totally caught the translation error in the subtitles at 2:07 - Poodle just confirmed it for me. This is noteworthy because I don't actually speak Portuguese.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The other problem with the Omar Khadr situation

Why is Omar Khadr in prison in the first place? Because he allegedly threw a grenade that mortally wounded a US soldier.

I know nothing of the legalities and technicalities of the situation, but the fact that a person can be arrested for allegedly attacking invading/occupying soldiers who are attacking them offends my sense of fair play.

It would be like going into a paintball game with a fully loaded paintball gun and shooting paintballs at people, and then pressing assault charges when they shoot paintballs at you. It would be like starting a game of dodgeball on the playground, and then running tattling to teacher "Waaaah! She threw a ball at me!"

If you're going to send soldiers into other countries and have them go barging into buildings trying to capture people, you have to assume they're going to get shot at or have grenades thrown at them or whatever. If you don't want your soldiers to get shot at, don't go around making war zones.

Do non-socialists see their views as being for the common good?

Terminological note: "non-socialist" is not the word I'm looking for. I'm looking for an opposite of "socialist" that isn't inherently negative (i.e., tempting as it is, "fascist" won't do.) If you can think of le mot juste after reading the post, let me know in the comments.

I once heard someone who wasn't socialist (and may have been opposed to socialism) define socialist as "I want this but I don't want to pay for it." I find that definition imprecise. When I want something and don't want to pay for it, I go to FilesTube or Pirate Bay. When I'm being socialist, I'm saying "Everyone should be able to have this," and most often I'm saying "I have this, I see it is good, I think the world would be a better place if everyone had it." It isn't about me, it's about everyone.

Oddly, this is similar to my attitude towards breaking the rules. Sometimes, when the line at a store is really long, I'm tempted to just shoplift my purchase - not because of the money, but because of the unreasonable wait. Haven't done it yet, but it is tempting sometimes. So I was googling around this idea once, and found people saying that people who shoplift (yes, for the express reason that the line is too long) just think they're specialer than anyone else. This isn't true in my case. I'm tempted to shoplift not because I think I'm special, but because I don't think it's reasonable to have to wait in line to buy your food for longer than it would take to eat said food. If anyone else shoplifts in this situation, I totally see where they're coming from. It's not that I think I should and they shouldn't. Similarly, when I jaywalk, or when I skipped class in high school, it wasn't that I thought I was above the rules, it was that I thought the rules were unfair (to everyone) and no one should have to follow rules that are unfair.

So thinking about this, I find myself wondering if non-socialists feel that their views are somehow for the common good (rather than just "I shouldn't have to spend money on stuff I don't use myself). On one hand, my own viewpoint is less selfish than they think it is, so it would be ungenerous not to consider the possibility that their viewpoint is less selfish than I think it is. On the other hand, the fact that people think I'm thinking of socialism purely in terms of my own benefit - and the fact that people think I break the rules because I think I'm specialer than anyone else - suggests that these same people might view their own politics - and any disregard for the rules that they might have - purely in terms of their own benefit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why hasn't the climate map received North American media coverage?

Recently I saw an item on Google News about how some scientists had made an interesting and interactive map of how a 4 degree increase in world temperature will affect different parts of the world. Fascinating!

However, it didn't turn up in any of my usual news sources, which was odd. So today I searched in Google News, and I can't find any evidence that this story has been picked up in North America, not even once.

So what's up with that? Have you seen the climate map mentioned in North American media?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Things They Should Invent: divide tone-deaf into two concepts

In general usage, tone-deaf is taken to mean you can't sing because you miss the notes. However, its literal meaning is that you can't hear the difference between notes. If you google for online tests of tone-deafness, they're really ear training tests - they test whether you can differentiate aurally between different notes.

However, there are people like me who can hear music and differentiate aurally between notes just fine, but can't hit the right pitch when singing. I know I'm not hitting all the notes, I can hear that I'm not hitting all the notes, I just...can't make it happen. Similar to how if I try to sink a three-point shot on the basketball court, I'm probably going to miss. I can see the hoop, I can see that the ball isn't going through the hoop, but I can't necessarily make it go through the hoop.

For lack of better ideas I suggest tone-mute for this concept, but I'm wide open to better ideas.

Blast from the past

This song didn't feel nearly so bubblegum when it first came out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I want these!

Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper in Barbie form.

Those would have been such an awesome addition to my all-blonde Barbie collection.

Currently wondering about anti-vaccine sentiment

Why do people think their immune system is strong enough to fight off a whole disease, but don't think their immune system is up to properly assimilating a vaccine?

Everyone look at the xkcd website today

Even if you normally read it through a feed reader, make sure to click through to the main page today.

It's beautiful!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thoughts from Big Sort

A while back, I was chatting with my hairdresser and found out that most of her clients are childfree. I thought on this a while, and it led to my noticing that in a great many areas in life, I choose things that are most suitable for me, and find myself surrounded by people who are like-minded in other ways on top of the factor that led me to that choice.

So I was googling around this idea for a while, and found this book: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop. The book is very US-centric, but parts of it still seem applicable to my reality, and it led to a number of interesting trains of thought, which I'm going to blog about here.

(Note: The book deals with generalized demographic trends, so this post necessarily does to. I started out putting all the necessary mitigative language in everywhere and it quickly became ridiculous, so everything here is to be interpreted as a generalized trend, not an absolute truth, even if it is phrased absolutely.)

How do educated people perceive education?

One of the things touched on in the book is that people who don't have higher education tend to be...suspicious is the best word I can come up with, but that isn't quite precise (I'm foolishly writing this without the book in hand)...of people who do have higher education. They see us as up in some ivory tower completely removed from their reality, with perhaps an undertone of that we think less of them. That's just completely unlike my corner of reality. Round these parts, education is just something you have or have not done depending on your circumstances and inclination. It's morally equivalent to having read a particular book or not. If you've read the book, then you' the book. If you haven't read the book, you can always read it later, or watch the movie, or google it, or continue to go about your life without it. No big deal.

But then in some of the recent strikes (TTC, City of Toronto workers), some people were getting really pissed off that these workers were earning a decent living in jobs that didn't require higher education, and even calling for these jobs not to pay a decent living on the tacit basis that they didn't require higher education. That's so totally WTF I can't even begin to speculate.

But this raises a lot of questions. How many people with higher education think it's no big deal like I do, and how many think it's like some sacred golden key like the strike haters do? Do people with less education perceive people with more education as Other because of the strike hater types, (or vice versa, although I couldn't imagine how that would work), or did the two evolve separately? Could we create a better-functioning society by getting more people to think of it as no big deal? Would affordable tuition do this?

Why do people who value self-sufficiency need small-talk from strangers?

One of the points made in the book was that people who live in more rural areas tend to value self-sufficiency and independence. This surprised me, because one thing I have noticed in real life is that people in more rural areas are tend to want to small-talk with strangers, and find it off-putting that city people tend to not initiate conversation unless there's a specific reason to. My reasoning behind not talking to people unless I have a specific reason to is out of respect. I assume they're perfectly competent people with their own lives and their own concerns, and there's no reason why they would be interested in me. And yet, the population that disagrees with this approach correlates with a population that values self-sufficiency. So what's the story?

Are people who value self-sufficiency more actually more broadly competent?

As I mentioned above, people who live in rural areas and are more conservative tend to value self-sufficiency, seeing it as practically a moral imperative. This reflects something that has long been baffling me. If I mention that I can't do something or can't do it well enough to bother, certain people I know try to convince me I can - like they try really hard, far beyond social ego stroking, and seem really invested in the idea that I really can do whatever if I just try. After reading the book, I realized the people who do this are among the most conservative people I know. So they view self-sufficiency as more of a moral imperative - if you're self-sufficient, you're a good person; if you're not self-sufficient, you're being a lazy-ass and therefore a bad person. These people generally see me as a good person, so their initial gut reaction is that because I'm a good person, of course I can do whatever it is!

But, of course, the way real life works is that different people are good at or not good at different things to different degrees. So people who value self-sufficiency are going to do things themselves whether they're good at it or not, and are more likely to interpret the results of their efforts as adequate even if they are sub-optimal because they view it as a moral imperative. Meanwhile, people who have no particular problem with the idea of not being self-sufficient are more likely to look at sub-optimal results as "Meh, I'm not very good at this" and hire someone to do it next time.

It would be really interesting to study people who do and don't value self-sufficiency as a moral imperative and see how good they are objectively at various things. The trick is you'd have to control the results for the amount of practice the people have. For example, my parents think it's excessively decadent to hire someone to paint, so they paint themselves, and they've probably painted a whole house a total of four times in their lives. Meanwhile, I'm not very good at painting neatly and the smell of paint nauseates me, so I've painted maybe a quarter of a wall in my life and very much hope never to paint anything ever again. (I would unhesitatingly choose to live with peeling paint if I couldn't afford painters rather than attempt to do it myself.) So if you wanted to study who is objectively better at painting, you'd have to control for the fact that my parents have painted so much more than I have. Maybe they could study what people consider an acceptable result for their effort or something like that

What if we're working with two different definitions of self-sufficient?

One of the major examples the book gives of these attitudes towards self-sufficiency is that the self-sufficiency as moral imperative people view public transit as a waste of taxpayers' money and everyone should just STFU and drive themselves. (No mention either way of how they feel about toll roads - I haven't seen many toll roads in exurban areas.) This made my brain explode a little, because my initial, visceral attitude towards public transit is that it provides self-sufficiency. You can just go anywhere, no need to be dependent on a car or on other people to drive you, life is easy.

This all reminded me of a conversation I once had with my father back when I was a in my early teens. They were thinking about extending a bus route into our neighbourhood, and my father thought it was a waste of money because everyone in our transitless neighbourhood had a car - that's why they chose to live in the transitless neighbourhood. I was all "Um, no, I don't have a car. Kids who are old enough to go places themselves but not old enough to drive don't have cars. Seniors living with their adult children can't necessarily drive." I could think of dozens of individuals in the neighbourhood who would be well-served by a bus route. But my father was like "You don't need a bus, your mother and I drive you places. Kids are driven places by their parents. Mrs. Old Lady down the street is driven places by her adult children." A very disheartening thing when you're at the point where you're starting to want to do things independently of your parents, like all the protagonists in your favourite young adult novels.

But in that conversation, my father and I personify the two different views of self-sufficiency that I think are on the two sides of the Big Sort. I see self-sufficiency as an individual's independence from other individuals. I don't want to be dependent on my parents to drive me around. I see my grandparents also being dependent on my parents to drive them around, and I don't want to live like that either. However, people like my father see self-sufficiency as what I will for lack of a better word call their "tribe" (family, household, relatives, neighbours) being independent from outsiders. I think they feel that they take care of their tribe, and they don't want anyone else meddling with it. And I think they also feel that they're already doing the right thing and taking care of their tribe, so they shouldn't have to take care of someone else's tribe too. So at the crux of the divide is whether you think the tribe should be independent of the government, or whether you think the government should enable people to be independent of their tribe.

How you feel about this isn't necessarily reflective of the quality of your tribe. For example, I once saw someone propose that to save money, hospitals shouldn't give their patients meals, on the logic that hospitals are in the business of medicine, not catering. Patients' families should bring them food instead. Now, if I were in the hospital, my family would totally bring me food. We don't always like each other, we don't agree on most aspects of politics, but I have no doubt they would bring me any and all food I wanted for the duration of my hospital stay. However, I can totally imagine dozens of situations in which this model of the patients' families bringing food would be unsuitable, so, despite the fact that my tribe would totally feed me, I remain vehemently opposed to the idea of leaving people dependent on their tribe for food.

I think a problem with the tribe-centric view is that it doesn't always allow for the possibility that individuals do need to operate independently of the tribe. For example, I have seen several cases where right-wing fathers (I've only ever seen it with right-wing fathers, although I'm not discounting the possibility that other people do it too) have opposed some political measure because they think it would make it harder for them to provide for their children. However, they either didn't notice or didn't care that said political measure would make it easier for their children (who were either already or almost launched) to provide for themselves.

It would be interesting to study this self-sufficiency/tribe-centricity thing to see if the attitudes correlate with a person's position in their tribe. For example, cities are full of people who have left their tribe of origin upon reaching adulthood, which means that their only role without the tribe has been one of dependence. This would lead one to conclude that the people who value the individual's independence from the tribe are those who would be dependent upon the tribe, and the people who value the tribe's independence from outsiders are those with provider roles within the tribe. However, there are still people who stay in the more rural/conservative areas by choice despite their dependence on the tribe, even though they could live as independent individuals with the greater amenities available in urban areas. So there must be some other factors going on there, but I can't see them at the moment.

So how do we unsort ourselves?

As the book points out, people don't choose where to live because of the presence of like-minded individuals. We choose where to live because it suits our various needs. It's a reasonable commute to work. The quality of the housing is as close to ideal as we can manage. The distance from or proximity to various things is as close to optimal as we can realistically manage. Similarly, I chose my hairdresser because she specializes in long hair, not because she and her clientele are childfree. I chose my job because the work is a good match with my strengths, not because I'd be working with people with a similar family immigration history.

So how can we unsort ourselves? I don't know about you, but I'm not about to move to a less suitable neighbourhood, job, or hairdresser, especially not in service of spending more time with people whose political opinions I consider somewhere between sub-optimal and repugnant.

Or should we?

One thing that has really baffled me about Toronto municipal politics is people who live in Toronto proper, but don't want the trappings of urban life. They don't want bus service on their street or a subway stop in their neighbourhood or mixed-use zoning. They want to be able to park three cars on their property. I honestly do not understand at all why they choose to live in Canada's most urban municipality when they don't want urban life, and when the lifestyle they do want is readily available (at a significantly lower cost) just over in 905. As I've blogged about before, I chose my neighbourhood of highrises specifically for its urban nature, and it's very frustrating when people who live in houses outside our highrise neighbourhood try to stop the building of new highrises. So maybe we'd all be happier if we sorted ourselves fully.

But it doesn't seem right to position ourselves so we're completely disregarding a whole chunk of society just because they prefer a different lifestyle.

What would happen if all stimulus money was spent directly on creating government jobs?

In real life, there's obviously be too much political/ideological backlash, but let's just play with this idea.

The different levels of government cooperate to create a whole bunch of jobs in the positions where they're most likely to have use for them for long term, and they hire as many unemployed people as funding will bear to fill these jobs. If they can't find candidates with suitable qualifications, they either train them or give them full ride scholarships to go back to school, with a guaranteed job at the end. The jobs are all full-time Good Jobs, not contract hell, with decent salary, benefits, pensions, unionized if that's the standard, etc. The arrangement is that they will do their very very best to keep all these people employed for their entire careers; if their current position becomes redundant, they'll find them another suitable position, and train them if necessary.

So how would this affect the economy? Primarily, the consumer confidence of the people who get these new jobs would skyrocket. They would buy a house if they're into it and can find a suitable one at a price that's commensurate with their salary. They would buy a car if they need one. They wouldn't put off going to the dentist since they now have coverage. They wouldn't scrimp on groceries or haircuts or internet service or any number of everyday expenditures. So this would in turn help the housing market and the car market, as well as businesses like optometrists and hairdressers and coffee shops. If you've got enough confident consumers patronizing these businesses, the business owners and employees will themselves become confident consumers.

The big questions which I don't know how to calculate: 1. How many jobs would be created? 2. How many confident consumers are needed to restore the economy?

Thanks in advance

From the second letter in this Miss Manners column (bolding mine):

You could assist an entire profession if you would advise undergraduates on how to compose e-mail messages to their professors.

Like my colleagues, I've received peremptory messages from undergraduates, even entering freshmen, the tone of which might have been used by an aristocrat to a particularly lax and unpleasant waiter. After the remonstrances, there's often a transparent attempt at manipulation, as in "Have a great weekend!" or "Thanks in advance for your understanding."

The thing is, I was specifically taught to use those so-called "transparent attempts at manipulation" in the various business and professional writing courses I took in university. I've been using them for years, both in my own correspondence and in translations of other people's correspondence, under the supervision of instructors and professors and trainers and managers and senior colleagues of every generation, and no one has every suggested that these formulas are ever inappropriate. I've even had people compliment me on managing to work these kinds of phrases in.

It might be the influence of French on my profession. It is perfectly normal and unremarkable in French to close with something like Avec mes remerciements anticipés, je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, l'expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs. I yoinked that sentence right out of my advanced French writing textbook (i.e. advanced French writing for non-native speakers). When I first encountered that in French, I thought "Ooh, isn't that a good idea!" and started thinking how to incorporate it into English. It's quite possible that everyone who has trained or taught me went through the same process.

So what do you think? Are "Thanks in advance" and similarly manipulative structures inappropriate? (Or inappropriate when writing to superiors etc.?)

I've posted so many analogies in my blog that it has become an analogy

There are some people who have the attitude "I can do X, so anyone should be able to do X." This often comes with connotations that the people who can do X are just being lazy, and if they'd be diligent they'd be able to do X just fine.

So here's my analogy:

I average two blog posts a day. (Yes, I've been lazy lately, but two a day is the mathematical average.) Approximately 50% of my posts (based on a random sampling of several archive pages) contain original creative or critical thinking (as opposed to being links, quizzes, youtubes, diary entries, liveblogging, or emotional angst). I've been keeping up this pace for years.

So before you go assuming that because you can do something anyone can, I'll ask you this:

Where's your blog?

Now I know that there are several people reading this who can blog at a steady rate. But I think we've all seen enough dead blogs to get the point.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The older you get, the smarter your parents get": two possible perspectives

I've been very frustrated with my elders lately, because they aren't being smarter than me in the ways I need them to be. I'm not talking professional knowledge or knowledge specific to certain hobbies and interests, I'm talking life knowledge and skills that you absorb or figure out just by living life. How to remove a stain. How to invest your money. How to answer the "Tell me about a time when you had a conflict in your workplace" job interview question when you haven't actually had a conflict in your workplace. I keep finding my elders know no more than I do in these areas, and sometimes are two steps behind me. It's very frustrating, and also utterly baffling. I came into the world in 1980 knowing literally nothing. Since then, I've had to learn how to walk and talk and eat and read and socialize and balance my bank account. And during this time, I also developed a certain amount of expertise in stain removal and investing and job interviewing. But my elders, who had already figured out how to do all the walking/talking/bank account stuff long before 1980 and have been removing stains/investing/job interviewing since well before 1980, don't seem to know anything more than I do.

So my first theory is that they have some huge amount of extra knowledge in areas that I can't even see, can't even begin to imagine. So I was wishing that there was some way to tell how much of a person's knowledge you aren't seeing. In the Sims, if a person has five personality traits but you only know three of them, you can see that there are two other traits you don't know. I was thinking it would be so helpful if we could see something similar for people we're talking to in real life. I don't know if it's the same for everyone, but when I talk to someone I tend to get the impression that what I'm getting from them is representative of the whole person. It would be far easier to respect an elder who tells me "wash your clothes inside out" as though that were panacea, as though I haven't already been doing that for a decade, if I knew that I was only seeing 10% of what they have to offer, rather than thinking they had lived for decades and decades and the best they have to offer is that I should wash my clothes inside out.

In a fit of frustration, I tweeted that I've learned more from my elders about what not to do than about what to do. But that ultimately led to my second theory: our elders don't actually have decades of experience on us, because in living alongside them and observing them we're constantly absorbing the lessons they've learned from their decades of experience. I'm not even talking about stuff our elders try to deliberately teach us, I'm talking about lessons that they learn when we're kids - we learn right along with them.

For example, both of my grandmothers are still living in their own homes, but they need their kids to drive them places and help with stuff around the house. I look at that and think that's not what I want my golden years to be like (especially since I won't have kids), so I've already altered my life accordingly by choosing to live in a highrise in a high-density, walkable neighbourhood. My parents were constantly painting and fixing up their house, and I hated it. The smell, the mess, the because of that, I'm never going to buy a fixer-upper or go charging starry-eyed into a DIY redecorating project only to end up weeping on the floor of a half-ruined room. My parents also took us on a lot of trips, and I hated it. Close quarters, carsickness, lack of control over food and accommodations, and I simply don't get any pleasure out of sightseeing or being on a beach or whatever. So because of this, I'm never going to waste thousands of dollars and a year's worth of vacation time and ruin a relationship on some idealized "OMG, travelling = sexy!"

But I think part of the problem is that our elders think that we're in the same place they were when they were our age. I'm pretty sure at least one of my grandmothers thinks I don't realize that, in being childfree, I won't have any kids to take care of me when I'm old. I'm pretty sure she and her husband bought their house when they were in their 20s without giving any thought to what life will be like at 80 so she assumes I'm doing the same, whereas in real life I learned about the long-term unsuitability of car-dependent housing at the same time that she did.

Analogy: Our elders are like pure mathematical theorists coming up with new proofs and equations. We're the math students decades later casually using those proofs and equations in our applied math textbooks. I certainly could never come up with a way to calculate or prove derivatives, and I promptly forgot the long-form equation as soon as we started learning the product rule and the quotient rule. But I can still use derivatives in physics for velocity and acceleration, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of my physics work is being discounted because the senior academics think my theories on velocity and acceleration are worthless because when they were my age they didn't have a way to calculate derivatives.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mashup bunny: Shut Up And Drive My Car


You'd need to tweak the tempos a bit, but that's doable for people who know how to do that sort of thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More later

I have multiple posts festering in my brain and in my drafts folder, but I'm too cranky today. I spent the whole day feeling disproportionately pissed off at non-immediate assholes and my make-up feels heavy.

So here's a kitten who thinks her food is yummy:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When, why, and how did classroom learning start being unsuitable for boys?

I've heard it mentioned as a given quite a few times in quite a number of places (examples off the top of my head: this and this) that boys are ill-served by the traditional classroom model of school. Apparently they find it way harder than girls to sit down, sit still, listen, pay attention, read, write, buckle down and do their work, etc.

But there's a great big neon blinking question mark here that I haven't seen addressed or even mentioned anywhere: the traditional classroom model, complete with sitting, listening, paying attention, and diligently doing work, dates back to when school was for boys only. Off the top of my head and limiting myself only to Anglo-Saxon culture (because that's the only one I have pertinent information from off the top of my head), I know that the traditional classroom model was around in the UK in the middle ages, because the Catholic church used it (at Oxford and elsewhere) to train boys up to be priests.

So when did this model, which was originally conceived for a male-only context, become unsuitable for boys? Why and how did this happen? If someone could figure this out, maybe we could address it or undo it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Open Letter to panhandlers

Dear Toronto panhandlers:

A number of your have recently been approaching me as though you're about to ask for directions, only to ask me for money. You're going to have to stop doing this, because it's going to ruin our city.

I totally get that innovation is required in tough economic times, but you're going to have to find something else. If you keep approaching people like you're asking for directions, we're going get desensitized and start ignoring genuine direction-askers on the assumption that they're just panhandling. (I, personally, have gotten about twice as many panhandlers as genuine direction-askers in the past month.)

We don't want to be the kind of city where people don't stop to give visitors directions, but we do have a limited tolerance both for being asked for money and for being tricked. Please, for the good of the city, leave the asking-for-directions body language and related conceits to people who are genuinely asking for directions.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Severance pay poll

From this article:

A study by Barry Fisher, a prominent employment law mediator, found that courts have awarded an average of 2.6 months' notice per year of service to employees who have been with a company for just two years. This means that on average, an employee with two years' service receives over five months of notice on termination.

Then later:

A written contract could limit the entitlement for a two-year employee to as little as two weeks, for example.

(Bolding mine.)

This is completely inconsistent with my corner of reality. I would feel very fortunate indeed to get over two weeks, and five months (for any tenure of employment) is unheard of. I have seen a number of collective agreements for different professions and different employers, and they tend to hover around one week per year of employment.

So my question for anyone reading this: are these number for severance pay (five months being typical, two weeks being characterized as "as little as") typical/normal in your corner of reality?

Anonymous comments are welcome, you don't have to identify yourself or your profession, but please indicate if you are outside of Canada. (You don't even have to say where, just that you're outside of Canada.)

Public Health message we need: stay home sick even if your illness isn't H1N1

Some members of the general public seem to be getting the idea that the public health message that you should stay home sick because of H1N1/swine flu means you should stay home if and only if you have H1N1.

I'm not a health professional or anything, but shouldn't people be staying home sick no matter what they have? If you're sick, your resistance is down so your body won't be as able to fight off any flu that might come its way. If you go to work with a common cold and spread your cold around the office, you'll have a whole office full of people who are less able to fight off any flu that might come their way. But if you stay home for a day and sleep your cold off, you aren't just avoiding weakening other people's immune systems, you're making your own immune system strong again.

If this line of thinking is valid, I think the public health people need to emphasize that you should stay home sick even if you don't have swine flu!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Debt ratios

Thomas Walkom on Canada's deficit.

I'm not quite knowledgeable enough to comment on this or any other theory of paying off national debt. (I do have opinions, but they're generally based solely on my experience managing my personal finances.) However I think it's interesting to compare these debt ratios to what they would be if they were an individual's personal debt. Again, I don't know enough about managing a nation's finances to know if this is a valid comparison, but it's interesting so I'm blogging it.

This year's federal deficit is expected to represent just 3.7 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product

So let's assume you're an individual who earns $50,000. (Q: Why $50,000? A: It makes the math easy and is close to Canada's household average.) So suppose in a given year (after several years in the black) and in response to a legitimate and temporary problem, you spend more than you earn to the tune or 3.7% of your salary. 3.7% of $50,000 is $1,850. (Aside: the great advantage of blogging over translating is I don't have to circumlocute starting a sentence with a numeral.) So one year you spend $1,850 more than you earn. Not a huge problem. You do need to pay it off, you probably want it in a credit instrument with a better interest rate than a credit card, but you'll be fine. If you have a Good Job, you'll make it up in raises in the next year or two.

Nor is Canada's total national debt (the sum of past government deficits) dangerously out of whack. At just under 30 per cent[...]

So you make $50,000, and your debt is 30% of that. 30% of $50,000 is $15,000. Again, not a huge deal. You do need to pay it off, you do need a payment plan, but basically all you have to do is stick with your payment plan. If it's good debt, it's barely even a problem - if it's your mortgage, you're golden! If I had a mortgage that was only $15,000, I'd be dancing!

I don't know if there are different issues when we're talking about national debt, but it's an interesting way to put impossibly large numbers in perspective.

Wanted: cap-sleeved or short-sleeved v-neck fitted t-shirts

I'm looking for cap-sleeved or short-sleeved fitted v-neck t-shirts. Solid colours (black, red, etc.), longish in keeping with current fashion, not loose and flowy, for the specific purpose of being worn under sweaters like how you'd normally wear a cami.

(Q: Why not just wear a cami? A: They don't cover my armpits and I don't much want to have to hardcore wash knit sweaters after every wear.)

Anyone know offhand of anywhere that currently has something like this in store? (Not places that "should" have them, not "Oh, you can get that anywhere", somewhere where you've seen them with your own eyes so I don't have to run around and shop.)


There's a school of thought that if you're renting, you're completely throwing your money away. I don't feel that way. I think I'm getting my apartment in exchange for my rent. Yes, I have to keep paying for it, but I also have to keep paying for food and utilities and toilet paper. But some people from this school of thought have told me that it's a waste to rent since I do want to own a condo someday, and I should buy something - anything - so my money is going into building my own capital. I prefer to live in the most optimal conditions possible even if I have to rent for longer before I can afford to buy, but people from this school of thought think I should buy something - anything, anywhere - and I can always move or upgrade later when I can afford it.

Here's an analogy for that line of thinking:

"You're wasting money taking those birth control pills! After all, you do want to have children someday. So you don't have enough money or a big enough home or a partner who's interested in parenting any children you might pop out? No biggie, you can always get those later."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Currently wondering

This idea came to me in the context of Walmart, but I'd imagine it could also apply to other big businesses.

Some people boycott Walmart. I wonder if it would be more damaging if, instead of boycotting, they instead shopped at Walmart but only bought loss leaders, in as copious quantities as they could tolerate and get away with. Never buy anything the company would make a profit on, just things they'd lose money on.

I can think of about half a dozen arguments each for and against this approach.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Python fans

Live Monty Python Q&A at 9:00 pm! Click here!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dog etiquette question

If a dog clearly consents to me petting him - like it was totally Mr. Puppyface's idea in the first place - should I still be asking his human's permission?

Open Letter to Toronto media

Dear Toronto and Toronto-based media:

I'm sure we can all agree that the Toronto Sun is very good at sensationalism. No one does it better. And everyone knows this - people who want sensationalism go straight to the Sun.

So why don't we leave all the sensationalism to the Sun and their affiliates, and the rest of you can focus on sensible, intelligent, nuanced reporting and commentary? Everyone will be happy that way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Things They Should Invent: journalistic ethics addressing people who only skim the headlines

Several times recently I have seen situations where people who are normally quite sensible have just skimmed an article or caught a glance of a headline without absorbing the whole thing, and then have taken away only the sensationalism of the headline or someone's spin on the issue, without a sense of the situation as a whole. I know, it happens to everyone sometimes, it's happened to me.

But the reason I'm concerned is because I can think of more than one case where a normally-sensible person caught only a glimpse of the issue filtered through a generous helping of spin, and as a result took or recommended political action that is detrimental to me personally. They're hurting me, and the situation they think they're addressing by doing so isn't even true. It's like if your dentist drilled a perfectly healthy tooth because he misread the x-ray.

I can't blame people for not reading every article in depth - I certainly don't read everything - but it's extra frustrating because when it's an issue that affects me I do read every article in depth and seek out alternate interpretations and primary sources, but the people who were less diligent still have the power to hurt me. (The obvious suggestion at this point is to educate people, but I don't know going in who, if anyone, is going to end up hurting me through ignorance.)

I wish journalistic ethics required constructing articles and television features so that you only get facts if you just glance at it, and you have to focus and pay more in-depth attention to get spin and opinions.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Haute couture

The stuff you see on the runway in fashion shows looks completely irrelevant to me. It's way out there, it's intended as an artistic vision but isn't intended for people to actually wear in real life (or at least not in my little corner of real life).

I was recently looking at some old Life magazines on Google Books, and they showed pictures of runway fashion shows from the 50s. The clothes there didn't look irrelevant. They looked like perfectly cromulent 50s fashion. I wasn't around in the 50s, of course, but extrapolating from tv/movies/pictures, they looked like stuff people would actually wear in real life. They were "outfits", not "get-ups".

I wonder if people in the 50s would agree with that assessment? Did those outfits actually look like outfits to them, or did they, for reasons I can't imagine, look like crazy runway fashion get-ups to the typical 50s viewer?

And if they did look like real clothes for real life, when did runway fashion stop applying to real life?

Flu "season"

"Flu season" is October to April, inclusive.

That's seven months! How can that call that a season? That's...the majority of our lives!

How ignorance/closed-mindedness works

I've blogged this story before: When I was in about to start Grade 9, my then-best friend called me up and said "We have a problem. The Grade 9 gym teacher is a lesbian!" That's basically how my homophobia worked at the time. I hadn't ever heard homosexuality described or spoken of as anything other than a problem or a shame, and it didn't occur to me to question that. Because everyone was talking about it like it's something bad, I unthinkingly assumed it must be bad.

I think that's how a significant quantity of ignorance and closed-mindedness works. You only ever hear of things spoken of a certain way, and perhaps it doesn't occur to you to question the underlying assumption.

The solution, which I don't know how to execute, is to encourage people to question the underlying assumptions. This is tricky, because you don't want to come on too strong and put them on the defensive. For example, you might have noticed an ongoing theme in my blog that bugs are yucky and puppies are cute. My personal neuroses aside, this is an automatic reaction that a lot of people have. When I write blog posts with the underlying assumption that bugs are yucky or that puppies are cute, the vast majority of people accept those givens. If someone wanted to convince people that bugs are cute and puppies are yucky, they couldn't just outright say it because people's automatic reaction would be "WTF?? You're insane! Get this looney away from us! Save the puppies! Kill the bugs!" It's such a shocking attack on what we dearly hold to be most basic truths that our reaction would be violent and visceral. To make it work, the pro-bug anti-puppy lobby would have to sort of plant the seed of a suggestion and let it grow until people feel that they have come to realize independently that bugs are cute and puppies are yucky.

So, when faced with ignorance and closed-mindedness, we have to somehow figure out how to plant the same seed of questioning heretofore-unquestioned assumptions. I don't know how to do that.

(But don't go around breeding bugs and exterminating puppies please, okay?)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Things They Should Invent: construction materials that make bugs infertile

I'd love to make all the bugs in the world die, but that would probably throw off the ecosystem a bit, so I'll settle for just not having them come into my home.

I've previously come up with the idea of making everything (walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows) poisonous to bugs, but the problem is then they'd also probably be poisonous to humans and puppies.

So here's the next best thing: add something to all construction materials that makes bugs infertile on contact. They don't die, but they can't reproduce. So eventually darwinism kicks in and all the bugs that would dare enter human space have died out?

Q: But wouldn't it make humans infertile? A: I can't say for certain, but I think bugs reproduce vastly differently than we do, so it's quite conceivable that there's something out there that would make bugs infertile without affecting human fertility.

People should listen to me

Me in June:

[Why do we need] 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?

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter just a few days ago:

While external consulting expertise is clearly required on a project of this size and complexity, we found in some cases a near-total reliance on consultants, especially at the ministry. We noted instances where consultants were influential in hiring other consultants, sometimes from their own firms and sometimes at rates much higher than we considered appropriate; and some remained on extended contracts for years at a time.

From an operational perspective, relying too heavily on consultants can be costly. Consultants are generally a lot more expensive than employees, and when they finish a project, they leave, often taking with them the expertise needed to maintain and operate the system they helped develop.

Why are people allowed to write laws when they can't accurately express their intentions?

Reading about the legal challenge to the laws surrounding prostitution, it seems apparent that the intention of the legislation was to prevent people from being forced/coerced/exploited into prostitution, without getting people in trouble for being prostitutes.

We can all wrap our brains around that concept. Even if we don't agree with it, we can easily grok what's being described. Even if you believe that all prostitutes are being forced/coerced/exploited - even if it turns out that in reality every single prostitute in the world is being forced/coerced/exploited - we can still conceptualize the theoretical difference between being forced/coerced/exploited into prostitution and willingly engaging in prostitution. It isn't a particularly difficult concept. (Just like how we can conceptualize the difference between a horse and a unicorn even if we don't believe in unicorns.)

So why can't they write the law to reflect these intentions, rather than making fussy and arbitrary rules about living off the avails and bawdy houses?

This happens quite frequently. They raised the age of consent to 16 in an alleged attempt to stop the sexual exploitation of minors, rather than writing legislation against the sexual exploitation of minors. I recently heard of a school that required students wearing uniform kilts to wear hosiery underneath to stop students from wearing the skirts too short and flashing their thongs - rather than just making a rule against flashing their thongs. They recently made age-specific changes to Ontario driver's licences to stop people from driving around with cars full of drunken screaming idiots, rather than making rules against driving around with cars full of drunken screaming idiots.

We can all conceptualize the nuance of the specific behaviour that these rules are trying to stop, and we can all see how the legislation as written doesn't precisely reflect the intentions, it just sort of generally correlates most of the time.

So why don't we demand competence from our legislators? Why are we, as a society, allowing people to write legislation when they can't clearly articulate their intentions?

Polar bear: "OMG, PUPPIES!"


When do unto others doesn't work

I've been struggling for quite a long time to compose this post, because it's very hard to write without sounding whiny or "woe is me". So I'm going to cop out and state outright at the outset that my intention is not to sound whiny or "woe is me". My intention is simply to observe an invisible obstacle that makes it harder for people to understand each other and enjoy pleasant social interactions. I use many personal examples, but that's because those are most accessible to me - I'm not often inside other people's heads.

So this train of thought started with this:

When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. "But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person's mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right."

I've blogged before about how this is a problem for me as an introvert in making conversation with extroverts. It's also been a problem in other areas. For example, when I'm going through an emotionally difficult time, I tend to retreat within myself. Talking about it doesn't help - it actually makes it worse because it keeps me dwelling on it - I just need some time and space alone. However, sometimes my friends feel neglected when I withdraw, and if I tell them I'm withdrawing because I'm going through a difficult time, their feelings are hurt that I'm not confiding in them. So where an extrovert would be able to heal themselves and tend to their friends' feelings with a single action - by talking about their problem with their friends - I can't do both at once and they actually work at cross-purposes. If I heal myself I'm hurting my friends' feelings, and if I tend to my friends' feelings I'm hindering my healing.

Before I had even heard of the difference between introverts and extroverts, someone told me that a friend of his had just had her dog hit by a car, so they were taking her out to a bar to get drunk. I was shocked and appalled. How could you possibly think someone would want to go out when their dog had just died? They'd totally want to sit alone in a room and drink by themselves! How dare they burden a bereaved dog owner that way! So since I was completely unaware at the time that other people's brains and emotional needs worked differently from my own, if the bereaved dog owner had been my friend I totally wouldn't have given her what she needed (and would probably have abandoned her to wallow in her grief on the assumption that that's what she needed); and if the bereaved dog owner had been me, I would have been so pissed off at my friends for trying to take me out to a bar of all things, at a time like this!

This also applies in situations where your innocent individual preferences are different from the norm. For example, suppose someone decides to hold a barbecue in the park, with all kinds of sports activities for everyone to enjoy. Conventional wisdom is that this is good and fun and a win-win-win situation. The barbecue will feed everyone, and it's the kind of food that people actively enjoy eating. Being outdoors is nice, spending time with lots of people is nice, and sports activities are fun. So your typical person gets their hunger sated, the pleasure of yummy food, the enjoyment of being outdoors, the hap hits of social interaction and the fun of playing sports. If they were a Sim, their hunger, social and fun meters would all be going up, and they'd have a few positive moodlets. And on top of this all they get the social capital of having participated in the group activity.

However, I, personally, don't get pleasure from most of these things. I'm vegetarian, so a barbecue is always a struggle to find something I can eat (and what's usually available will do the job, but isn't the kind of thing I'd go out of my way to eat.) Spending a day outdoors in the park would get me bitten to death by mosquitoes - even if the typical person isn't being bothered at all - and if bugs get near the food I'm going to have a panic attack. Sports simply aren't fun for me, and as an introvert I am drained rather than energized by the large group. So, if I were a Sim, my hunger, social and fun meters would all be going down, and I'd have a few negative moodlets. (And, as we all know from playing the Sims, if your mood rating is too low, you can't doing activities you don't enjoy - the option simply isn't available in the menu until your mood rating goes up.) But if you tell people this, you're no fun, a stick in the mud, a spoilsport. So if I want to gain the social capital of having participated in the group activity, I need to convince people that my needs meters are going up and I'm full of positive moodlets when they're actually going down and full of negative moodlets. Then, once the activity is done and I'm back home, I have to treat all my mosquito bites and eat something that makes me happy and get my mood back up so I can function at work the next day, whereas the people who actually enjoy this activity are sated in every way and already have their mood back up. So it isn't just the fact that you don't have access to do unto others and it isn't just the fact that you have to perform to gain social capital rather than just being yourself, it's also way more time consuming to have needs and preferences that are different from others'. Not only can you not multi-task the barbecue into meeting multiple needs, but others assume your multiple needs have been met. "What do you mean you need to go home and relax and have something to eat? You've been at a barbecue all day!"

And another part of the problem is that even if you know other people's needs or preferences are different from your own, you don't necessarily know what they are. For example, now that I know something of introversion and extroversion, I know that an extrovert who has just lost her dog probably doesn't want to be left all alone. However, I would never ever in a million years come up with the idea of taking her to a bar. That is simply so far removed from anything that feels remotely helpful to me.

So what do we do with this? I'm not quite sure. But a good start would be to stop putting value judgments on individual preferences, and to be open to the fact that not everyone's mind works the same as our own. Something I've been experimenting with recently (not sure if it's a good idea or not, but I'm in a place where I have a bit of leeway) is being completely out about the fact that I'm not sure what to do and asking other people for advice. "Is it appropriate to ask the mother of the hospitalized preemie baby how her baby is doing?" "Is this the kind of event where it's better to arrive early or to arrive late?" "This is the first time I've trained anyone, at all ever, so if I'm ever being less helpful than I should don't hesitate to let me know, because I'll never figure it out otherwise." If it doesn't result in everyone thinking I'm a total idiot, maybe it will at least give people an idea of the range of things I do and don't know.

Le contexte est plus fort que le concept

A piece of evidence from a relatively high-profile local crime was found very close to my home. (No worries, I have no reason to believe my neighbourhood is any less safe than I thought it was.) It isn't too hard to figure out which recent news story I'm talking about, but I'm not naming names or identifying features for googleability reasons.

I've been following the media coverage closely and have been reading the associated comments threads, and one thing I discovered to my surprise was how much of the general public's speculation is just wrong because they lack what I will term hyper-local knowledge. By hyper-local knowledge, I mean familiarity with the usual behavioural patterns and motivations of people in this neighbourhood. Not in terms of normal human motivation, but rather smaller and fussier things, like where people would take a shortcut or a smoke break or walk a dog, which entrance people would use if approaching a certain building from a certain direction on foot, stuff like that.

It sounds so inconsequential, but I'm reading through the comments threads dismissing theories left and right with near-certainty. "No, a visitor to the neighbourhood would never use this street to get to that destination." "Actually, people leave their personal effects there all the time and it hardly warrants a second glance." "Yes, it isn't far, but they simply wouldn't come here unless they had a very specific reason. People just don't do that." "The only way a person with a car would end up there is if they were very familiar with the area and had been in that exact location for a specific reason previously."

I never would have thought this if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but there are so many little nuances that you just don't perceive until you've spent a lot of time in a particular context. Half the time I can't even articulate why, but I'm absolutely certain that no one would ever to that thing one of the commentators is proposing. It's not like these commentators are stupid or ignorant or anything, they just don't know that people tend to run their dogs in this bit here, and sometimes they block off that sidewalk for construction, and the subsequent ripple effect in overall neighbourhood behaviour until you get to "Well, of COURSE he moved it! I would have moved it too! It's the obvious reaction!"

This makes me wonder how many thoughts and ideas I have that are just completely wrong because of some tiny little nuance that I can't even see.

(Fortunately, based on what I've seen in media coverage, the police do seem to have this hyper-local knowledge.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Are we not holding the United States of America to high enough standards?

Barack Obama strikes me as a decent enough fellow. He seems capable of a certain amount of critical and nuanced thinking, and looks like he's generally trying to make good things happen and make bad things stop happening. He seems to have a reasonable quantity of perspective, wit and charm, and strikes me as the kind of person who would like to make the world a better place. And he also happens to be President of the United States of America.

This should all be unremarkable. Most people reading this have most of these characteristics. They should be a minimum starting point - an assumption until informed otherwise (apart from the President of the United States of America part, of course).

But I think today they were the rationale for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize.

Understand, I have nothing against Barack Obama. I find him a likable individual and very rarely end up shout at the TV when he's talking. It wouldn't surprise me if one day he did do something worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

But he hasn't done it yet. Basically all he's done is be President of the United States without being an idiot. And while that's a refreshing change, it isn't grounds for a Nobel Prize. It shouldn't even be noteworthy.

We, the international community, would never deem one of our own leaders Nobel-worthy just on the grounds of not being an idiot. We should hold the US to the same standard.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Teach me ebay etiquette

As an experiment, I bought a gizmo on ebay from china for 50 cents (it would normally retail for about $20 here). I received it, and it turns out it has a flaw that probably renders either useless or unsafe to use. (It's electric, and one of the plug prongs is loose.) No big deal, you get what you pay for, life goes on. I really just wanted to see what would happen. I don't feel in any way put out and, from a "time is money" perspective, this isn't worth any more of my attention.

My question: what do I do about feedback? I don't want to give positive feedback because the gizmo is flawed. However, it doesn't seem fair to give non-positive feedback when I'm not giving the seller an opportunity to resolve the problem. I don't know what happens if you give no feedback whatsoever.

Any thoughts on what I should do? What would you want me to do if you were the seller?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I have like three long posts festering in my head, but they're the kind of things that require organization instead of braindumping and I can't seem to convince myself to buckle down and put together cohesive prose like a grownup.

Why doesn't baby brain make people smarter?

I've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that when you're pregnant you get tired and sometimes forgetful. And it's a fact of life that new babies wake up at night a lot, waking up their parents and leaving them sleep-deprived, and everyone knows from firsthand experience that you don't think quite so clearly when sleep-deprived.

In my own observations of people dealing with pregnancy and new babies, the result seems to be that they lose a level of critical thinking. Where before they would go "Interesting article. I wonder if the assumptions are valid and broadly applicable? I wonder how this premise is affected by the economic stimulus? What are the environmental implications? Would this hold if the stock market crashes and interest rates skyrocket?" they now go "OMG, you GUYS! Check out this article, it is SO TRUE!"

Doesn't this strike you as poor design? Why make the people responsible for the most helpless of our young temporarily dumber? How is that good for the perpetuation of the species? Wouldn't it be far more sensible for pregnancy hormones to give your cognitive powers a boost?

Monday, October 05, 2009

I love Improv Everywhere

Invisible dogs!

This would actually be interesting as an acting/improv training exercise, because you have to get in character as the dog. You see a pigeon or some garbage or another dog, what would your dog do? I think it would be a good way to practise committing to a character without the complexity of a human character that you don't know everything about.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Things They Should Invent: clear communication meter

Sometimes I think I'm communicating perfectly clearly with no room for ambiguity, and my interlocutor doesn't understand what I'm getting at at all. And sometimes someone is telling me something that makes no logical sense whatsoever, but they're acting like what they're saying is perfectly obvious. And sometimes the miscommunication in these cases is so great that the speaker can't even tell what aspect of it is not obvious to the listener. (This isn't a question of misunderstanding the language being spoken, it's a question of the clarity/logic of the message being communicated.)

As a translator and as a human being living in the world, I know intellectually that both parties are responsible for ensuring that communication is clear (assuming both parties are more or less equals - when an adult is talking to a three-year-old, it's obviously the adult's responsibility to understand and make themselves understood). But it's still frustrated, and there's often a part of me mentally screaming at my interlocutor "STOP BEING STUPID!" And if this happens often, it's very easy to feel like I'm the only sensible person in a world full of idiots, when in fact it's quite possible that I'm the idiot.

I wish there was some way to objectively measure who is making more sense and who is at greater fault for the miscommunication. That might make it easier to clear up any miscommunication, and people could get a sense of how often they're the idiot in the conversation. Maybe they could make an iphone app to do this.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Things They Should Study: ROI of socio-economic security

The older I get, the more of life I experience, the more I come to recognize the vast and disproportionate value of security, in the socio-economic sense of the word. Having a Good Job. Having safe housing. Having dental insurance. Having a bit of money put aside that you can throw at any moderate unexpected problem that might arise. Having a role in society that is generally considered respectable. Having the majority of people you encounter every day not look down on you. Simply being able to do, without drama or a second thought, whatever small and harmless thing you want to do, whether it's having a long hot shower, or making love to the consenting adult of your choice, or dyeing your hair red, or enjoying a glass of wine before bed.

The older I get, the more of life I experience, the more I enjoy doing what socio-economic security I do have and enjoy being empowered to do these kinds of small and harmless things that you can't always do (or at least not without drama) when you don't have socio-economic security, the more I become convinced that the benefits of socio-economic security are exponentially greater than any investment required to achieve it. I've already blogged about how I think the best way to help consumer confidence (and therefore economic recovery) is the perception among the general population that their jobs are safe. I've also found that the more social acceptance and less social censure I receive, the less defensive and more socially pleasant I become (which snowballs into even more social acceptance and less social censure), and I'm also in a better position to truly see and respect other people's points of view when I don't feel defensive about my own. I also find that in general, having a sense of my place in the world makes me a more productive citizen of the world. For most of my life, the world was a blur of confusion, swirling around me in an impenetrable mass of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations and uncertain futures. But the more socio-economic security I achieved, the more this blur came into focus. Instead of stumbling through a fog, it's more like walking down a busy street. Still lots going on, still lots of unknowns, but I have a better sense of what they are. Instead of using all my energy on not falling into unseen traps, I can spend some of it on inventing stuff and learning things and thinking about the societal implications of my choices. It's all very Maslowian.

So, thinking about all this, I think it would be fascinating if someone could quantify the ROI of providing people with socio-economic security. What would we have to invest to give everyone safety, a respectable place in society, and the leeway they need so that an innocent mistake or stroke of bad luck won't ruin them and so that they can enjoy harmless indulgences often enough to keep morale up? And what kinds of benefits would we gain from it?

Currently pondering

Suppose OHIP started covering 100% of the cost of glasses, including frames - whichever frames the client ends up choosing.

How would that affect the fashion aspect of the eyewear market?

Because fashion is a factor. You wear your glasses on your face, and often all the time. I'm sure the primary argument against OHIP covering 100% of the cost of frames is "But then people would get posh expensive designer frames for free!"

But would designer frames still be expensive if the status symbol factor wasn't there? Would more people buy designer frames, or would fewer people buy them since they're no longer a symbol of wealth? Given the (in my view tacky) habit of certain designers (**cough cough dolce&gabbana cough**) of putting their brand in giant letters on the arms of the frames, it seems some people value the designer name. Unless they merely tolerate the designer name to get the frames that they like best. (Personally, the big designer logo is a dealbreaker. It strikes me as hella non-U, not that I can claim to be U.) Are designer frames objectively better? (I don't know if they are, I can't afford them.) How would this affect the fashion choices of the general public? What if OHIP didn't put a limit on the number of pairs of glasses you bought?

Friday, October 02, 2009

State of everything

Craig Ferguson thinks everything sucks:

Louis CK thinks everything's amazing:

I agree with them both.

"Microblogging site Twitter"

Sometimes when news articles refer to Twitter, the first mention describes it as "microblogging site Twitter".

Is there anyone - even one single person in the world - who knows what microblogging is but doesn't know what Twitter is?

I did hear of microblogging in passing before I became familiar with Twitter, but the concept didn't make sense to me. Then, later on, when I found out that various famous people I want to stalk like and admire were tweeting, I went and checked out their Twitter feeds and from that got a sense of what Twitter is. And from this, I groked the concept of microblogging.

But there has been no point in my internet experience where my concept of what Twitter is could ever have been clarified by describing it as a "microblogging site."

Things Sleeptracker Should Invent: "I'm going to bed now" button

I've been playing with a Sleeptracker recently. I might post a more comprehensive review later, but my preliminary assessment based on the first couple of tries is that it does what it says it does.

However, there is one thing that annoys me. If you want it to track the quality of your sleep during the night (rather than just waking you up at an optimal time), you have to set a "to bed" time, i.e. tell it in advance what time you're going to bed. Setting the "to bed" time involves as much fussy button-pressing as setting an alarm time on a regular digital watch, which is annoying because I don't go to bed at the same time every night and despite my best efforts never end up in bed at the time I planned to - which is why I need a Sleeptracker to wake me up in the first place. So this means that if I want to track my sleep quality, I have to fuss with buttons and set the time just before I go to bed every single night. Not especially user-friendly, and probably won't be something I can keep up in the long term.

What I'd like to be able to do is press one button (or one button sequence) to tell the tracker "I'm going to bed right now." Then it automatically sets the "to bed" time as whatever the current time is. Surely we have the technology to do that?