Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Media elite"

It's a common collocation. But is anyone questioning it? The media doesn't strike me as especially elite. Some of them are (I was surprised by the number newspaper columnists who own houses in Toronto), but some of them also strike me as rather base.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Information Please: prorogation edition

So what was the government's ostensible/official reason for proroguing? I know that conventional wisdom is that they want to avoid an inquiry into the Afghan detainee scandal. But don't they have to give a plausible-sounding nominal reason before proroguing with legislation still on the order paper?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We Will Rock and Roll You

Queen vs. Joan Jett, with 50 Cent popping in:

The Ugly Glasses Chronicles

I suppose, objectively speaking, I can't quite call them ugly. They were bold. They were rectangular. They were trendy, in both the positive and negative senses of the word. They were chosen by a friend whose objective fashion sense I (still do) trust implicitly, and any halfway competent person could fully justify them as a fashion choice. They were also a wise purchase. The day I tried them on was the last day that they were on sale for 50% off (bringing their price BELOW the limit covered by my insurance!!), and three separate Lenscrafters employees assured me that I could return them for a full refund (which I ended up doing), so I decided to give myself time to see if I'd grow into them.

But the more I wore them, the more they made me feel hideous.

Their rectangular shape emphasized the squareness of my jaw and the lines on my forehead (which I detest not because they're lines, but because they are exactly the same as my father's). The thicker frame completely boxed in and emphasized the dark skin around my eyes when I wasn't wearing makeup, making me hesitant to even run to the grocery store without full makeup. Wearing my hair up was no longer an option, which is problematic at hip-length. Red lipstick no longer worked (and what's the point of life if you can't enjoy red lipstick?) I felt butch. I felt like a laughingstock. I felt like a fashion victim. I felt 13 years old again. I cried myself to sleep. I avoided making eye contact with my reflection in mirrors. I couldn't imagine wearing them with a sexy dress. If I had run into a client with whom I've only corresponded by email, or someone from high school whom I haven't seen in 10 years, I would have been embarrassed to be seen in these glasses.

So I went back and got the glasses I'd had my eye on in the first place, the pair I was, despite my best efforts to be open-minded, daydreaming about wearing. The pair that I fully expected would cause my fashion-savvy friend to say "We can stop shopping right now, this is perfect!" (In reality, they were relegated to about 4th place.) They're less fashion-forward, but I feel like myself in them.

I felt better now. I could breathe. I could stop crying, knowing that glasses that made me happy were on their way. But it would still be 10 days until they could be made. During that time, I had to navigate the city, meet with clients and convince them of my competence, get beauty treatments from people who are cooler than me, buy things and return things, deal with relatives over xmas, and generally perform as a competent adult despite the fact that my every instinct wanted to vanish into shame and shoegazing like my 13-year-old self.

So I had to very quickly learn a new skill. I had to fake being confident in these humiliating glasses. I had to aggressively externalize my energy, pushing the green of my eyes beyond these thick plastic rectangles that were boxing me in, convincing the world that I'm a confident hipster and this look is totally on purpose and of course I can totally pull it off. It was exhausting, but it was effective. I think I managed to carry myself as though this were a deliberate fashion choice, and somehow I managed to develop an effective "quelling glare" (as Miss Manners puts it) on the way. And, in the process, I fulfilled one of my birthday horoscopes from last year.

Overall, it was very much a learning experience. I went in not trusting my fashion instincts because my previous pair of glasses (which I love) were counter to most of my fashion instincts at the time of purchase. But from wearing the ugly glasses and then going back to the ones my instincts first wanted me to wear, I learned a lot about which of my fashion instincts I should trust and where I should and shouldn't follow trends (which is something I consider an essential adult life skill, but I haven't yet perfected it for glasses as much as I have for clothes). The energy and body language skills I developed trying to appear confident in the ugly glasses will serve me well as I work on Entitlement. I've developed a much better sense of where I'm comfortably willing to spend money on glasses, and I've gotten better at working with opticians to find something that suits me. Lots learned, good life experience. All of which is very easy to say now that I'm not stuck with the ugly ones for a whole year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Excellent customer service from Lenscrafters

Props to Lenscrafters, specifically their Fairview Mall location, for allowing me to easily and effortlessly return a pair of glasses (in keeping with their 30 day return policy) simply because I didn't like them.

I am fully aware that, as a competent adult, I should be able to tell whether or not I like the aesthetics of something when I'm first shopping for it, and returning a custom-made product is rather high maintenance. I know they can't resell my glasses, they lost money on the transaction, and someone might have even lost commission (which I do regret, but I really couldn't find anything else I liked in the store). And yet, despite all this, they still allowed me to return my glasses outright for a full refund without any drama or guilt, and without my needing to be assertive about it. There was an initial offer to help me find a pair I like better, but there was no further pressure once I told them I'd already found a pair I like better elsewhere.

I am very happy with the service I received, it makes me feel safe shopping at Lenscrafters, and I very much look forward to doing business with them again in the future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


As I do every year, I read every birthday horoscope I could find. Like 80% of them suggested that a lifestyle change would be happening in the next year. This scares me, because a) I've never had that degree of agreement among different horoscopes before, and b) apart from the possibility of a dog entering my life, I can't think of any way my lifestyle might realistically (i.e. no winning the lottery) change for the better. I'm in a good place now, I have what I need and what I want, I can't really see any realistic room for improvement.

Many of my horoscopes also talk about overcoming new challenges, in that bright, perky, slightly desperate tone of optimism used by people who have been laid off and decide to/are forced to go it alone as "entrepreneurs" in contract hell.

My horoscopes always come true, but never in a way I could have predicted. However, given the limitations of reality and the finite nature of the resources available to me, I can't see any possibility of a change in lifestyle or new challenges to overcome being a positive thing. And intellectually I know I've already had more than my lifetime's share of good luck.

I'm scared. I just want to stay safe.

I don't think I like my horoscopes this year


This year, you want to transform your daily life. Your vision might not coincide with what really happens. Examine your long-term desires, and don't focus on the status quo. If you are single, you will open a new door. The person you choose could be from a foreign country. If you are attached, the two of you will benefit from better communication and a willingness to detach. Work on the friendship that exists between you as well.

Globe and Mail:

You have big plans and you get a kick out of telling friends and relatives what they are but at some stage you are going to have to stop talking and start doing. Time may not be running out exactly but it is certainly counting down. If not now, then when?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry reading

Idea of the moment: Sonnet 29 being half-screamed, half-wept by a Beatles-movie-style fangirl trying to corner her idol at the stage door.

More information please: detainees edition

Why does the Canadian military in Afghanistan have detainees in the first place? Most of the media coverage I've seen doesn't explain how they came to be detainees. The impression I've gotten (which may well be incorrect or not entirely accurate) is that they track down people who have planted bombs etc. and arrest them like you'd arrest a civilian criminal in peacetime. Is that normal? It doesn't seem very military to me, and vaguely offends my sense of fair play. Would Canada have arrested people similarly during, say, WWII?

I have heard of prisoners of war, and I'm assuming that these detainees aren't prisoners of war or they'd be calling them that. Why aren't they prisoners of war? Are Canadian troops equipped to handle prisoners of war? If not, why not? If they are equipped for prisoners of war, why are they outsourcing their detainees?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crossover fanfic bunny

Eve Dallas crosses paths with Dexter Morgan, who, it turns out, killed Eve's mother (for perfectly valid, Code of Harry reasons).

Dexter would be about 80 by then, which is well within life expectancy in the In Death universe, and it would be easy to create reasons for him to be wherever Stella was in 2030 and then to be in New York (or for Eve to be in Miami, or for them to both be in the same third location) in 2060.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dear please ship by Canada Post, not UPS

I get into the elevator. I press the number for my floor. A UPS lady is standing in there for some reason, and when she notices the number I press asks me my apartment number. I tell her, and she hands me a signy thing and a package...from Amazon! "Weird that Amazon is shipping through UPS," I say as I sign the signy thing. "It's a new contract," she tells me.

Dear Amazon: Please go back to Canada Post!

Canada Post is easy and convenient. They just leave it in my mailbox. If it's too big or they need a signature, the post office is a block away. Effortless!

However, UPS can't leave stuff in my mailbox and requires a signature for every delivery. Like most people, I work during the day and am never home during UPS delivery times. Today I only just caught the lady as she was leaving, and that's because I didn't do errands after work like I normally do. So I end up having to go an hour out of my way, by bus, to the UPS depot on a remote stretch of Steeles. And on top of this already-disproportionate inconvenience, there's not much around the UPS depot (the street backs onto the back end of a field) and there aren't many eyes on the street, so I don't feel particularly safe waiting for the bus there after dark, which comes at about 4:30 pm this time of year. (This is where I'd have to wait for the bus. In comparison, when I have to wait for a bus in real life, it's usually in a place that looks more like this.)

Frankly, if they're going to ship by UPS it simply isn't worth it for me to buy from Amazon any more, which is tragic because Amazon has always been the easiest and my preferred way to buy anything that they sell. I sent them a note through their customer service thing, hoping it will get directed to the right people. (It's so hard to find an actual contact address on the site!)

Update: I got an email back from Amazon saying, among other things, that they are passing my concerns on to the shipping department. If you share these concerns, I'd suggest you let Amazon know too. Wouldn't you rather have your purchases in your mailbox than at the UPS depot?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Things They Should Invent (throwing money at problems edition)

1. Equip all food drives to collect money as well as cans

Food drives are inconvenient for me. Apart from my 72-hour kit, I tend not to have unopened nonperishable food on hand that I don't plan to use in the very near future. And when I find myself in possession of unopened nonperishable food that I don't think I'm going to get any use out of, I tend to put it in the food bank bin at the grocery store as a matter of course. So if I'm going to give actual food to a food drive, I have to either buy food specifically for that purpose, or I have to buy food specifically to replace the food that I removed from my kitchen.

However, I am happy to give money. I also think I read somewhere that money is actually more useful to the food banks, because they can get food for cheaper than retail (either bulk discounts, or wholesale prices, or suppliers giving good deals to food banks) and they can use the money to buy whatever food they're low on at the moment.

I totally see the appeal of giving actual food to food banks, but if all food drives were equipped to collect money as well, it would be easier and better for everyone.

2. Hybrid potlucks

Some people like potlucks because it saves money; these people don't mind going to a bit of inconvenience to save money. Other people don't like potlucks because they're inconvenient - these people don't mind spending a bit of money for convenience. The problem is when you have a mixed group. You just want to have a fun social event without burdening anyone unduly, but some people feel unduly burdened by having to spend money for a restaurant meal, while others feel unduly burdened by having to prepare a dish that's good enough to serve to others, big enough for a large group, and can be transported to the destination without being ruined.

Solution: a hybrid potluck. You can either contribute a dish, or you can contribute money. All the money is pooled and used to order pizza or buy catering. Perhaps one person's contribution could be to collect all the money and use it to fill in whatever gaps are remaining in the spread. That way everyone can contribute in the manner that's least burdensome to them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Things They Should Invent: effortlessness awareness

At an environmental presentation last year, I sat next to an investment banker who was initially skeptical when I explained that New Yorkers have a significantly lower environmental impact than other Americans. “But that’s just because they’re all crammed together,” he said. Just so. He then disparaged New Yorkers’ energy efficiency as “unconscious,” as though intention were more important than results. But unconscious efficiencies are the most desirable ones, because they require neither enforcement nor a personal commitment to cutting back. New Yorkers’ energy consumption has always been low, no matter what was happening with the price of fossil fuels; their carbon footprint isn’t small because they go around snapping off lights.

I've seen this sentiment - that optimal behaviour achieved effortlessly doesn't count - in a number of places. It's something a lot of people seem to land on without much critical thinking. You see it often in environmentalism (c.f. the plastic bag thing). Those calculators and websites that measure your environmental footprint tend to give you more credit for making drastic changes to negative behaviour than for having positive behaviour in the first place. Remember the One Tonne Challenge? If you reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from 8 tonnes to 7 tonnes, you win. If you reduce your footprint from 2 tonnes to 1.5 tonnes, you don't win. During Commuter Challenge week, you get credit for carpooling to work if you normally drive alone. However, you don't get any credit if you normally walk to work as a matter of course.

You also see it in health and fitness. Remember the thing where you're supposed to take 10,000 steps a day? You see all kinds of hints about how to get steps in by going slightly out of your way. (Park far away! Take a walk after dinner!) I happen to have inadvertently achieved it by living and working a few minutes' walk away from subway stations. But I have had people tell me on one hand that I'm being lazy by wanting to live an effortless walk away from the grocery store (as opposed to a distance that is either an effortful walk or a short bus ride), and on the other hand that I really should make the effort to maybe walk to the next subway station for health and fitness reasons.

You also get it in financial planning. I stay in the black primarily by diverting a certain amount of money from each paycheque into another account that I have to go to some effort to access. It never passes through my chequing/debit/bill-paying account, so I don't feel like I have it, so I don't spend it. Crude, but effective. Even if I spend every dollar in my primary account, I still have some money. But in some quarters I'm considered financially irresponsible because I buy my lunch instead of packing it, buy my groceries at the most convenient store rather than wherever each item is cheaper, etc.

I'm thinking it might be helpful if the general population became more inclined to appreciate effortlessness. Then when people go about making changes to things, they might be more inclined to look for solutions that will make optimal behaviour effortless rather than trying to get people to make additional efforts, however small.

So how do we raise awareness of effortlessness? What if there were websites/quizzes along the lines of the environmental footprint ones, but with the intention of drawing your attention to what you're already doing? They could determine the behaviour of the average person, and set up the quiz to identify where you're doing better and congratulate you for it. "Congratulations! Just by going about life normally, you're already using 10% less energy than the average person!"

Of course, we can't stop there because everyone would become complacent. So the next step, once we have everyone aware of the good their already doing effortlessly, is to promote ways to introduce effortless optimal behaviour next time people are changing things. Why next time they're changing things? Because that's a time when things are changing anyway, so may as well change for the better. For example, rather than "Replace all your lightbulbs with CFLs," say "Next time a lightbulb burns out, replace it with a CFL." Rather than "Walk or bike to the grocery store," say "Next time you move, try to find a place where walking to the grocery store is just as easy as driving." Rather than "Stop all not-strictly-necessary spending and pay off your debt," try "Next time you get a raise, put the entire amount of the raise towards paying off debt on top of your normal repayment schedule."

I think if people had more respect and appreciation for effortlessness, a great many things would get done better.

Things They Should Study: what is the impact of xmas on flu pandemics?

Public health officials are being accused of overinflating the flu threat get rid of extra vaccine doses, with the thinking that the flu threat is currently winding down.

But it seems to me that xmas could exacerbate the spread of the flu just because people tend to travel back to their families of origin.

By a quick mental head count, over xmas eve and xmas day I'm going to be seeing, talking to, and eating with (in rather close quarters) people from about 20 different households and 15 different schools/workplaces, including a few medical institutions. They could carry in viruses from any of those places, and any viruses brought in could be carried back to any of those places. And this is happening in many many families all around the world.

Surely that would have some impact on the spread of the flu?

My trip home today

I enjoyed this sequence of songs my ipod gave me on the way home today.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Please answer in the comments, anonymous comments welcome:

Someone you encounter in everyday life (but aren't necessarily friends with) has new glasses. You like the new glasses. Do you say something to them?

Wondering because I currently have a new pair of glasses that I don't necessarily like. They're from Lenscrafters, so I'm allowed to return them within 30 days. I'm taking people's reactions into consideration under the assumption that if they like them they'll say something, and if they don't like them they won't say anything. Trying to figure out if this is a safe assumption.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I am happy with the TTC today

A controversial ad under consideration for use on the TTC was being reviewed today, and the TTC's committee decided to reject it.

I am very happy with this decision.

I do not like that ad. I have so far succeeded in boycotting everywhere where I've seen the thing in question advertised (and sent them a note telling them exactly why I'm boycotting them), but obviously I can't boycott the TTC.

I wasn't expecting them to reject the ad. It encourages assholic behaviour and violates values on the more conservative end of the spectrum of generally accepted social values (probably the most conservative of the values that I do hold). The objection is emotional and visceral, not rational. Personally, what it comes down to for me is that I just want my city to be better than that. A sound and valid sentiment, but I didn't think it would be enough to lead the TTC to deliberately decline ad revenues.

However, whatever the reason, they did reject it. Props! I am very glad not to have to be ashamed of my city.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advice columns

David Eddie:

I recently moved into a house that is shared by five people. Four of the housemates have been friends for years and have lived together for three. I am the newcomer. I'm usually very shy, but I made an effort to come out of my shell and be involved in the goings on in the house. My efforts to be friendly weren't exactly rebuffed, but they weren't received all that warmly either. For the past few months, I've withdrawn more and more, and feel increasingly isolated from the people I live with, to the point that I find it uncomfortable to be in my own home. My shyness has been an obstacle my whole life, and I don't want to let it rule me any more. Any suggestions on how to reintegrate myself into the house?

I think there are really two questions here: "How can I make friends?" (which David Eddie answered) and "How can I make friends with specific people?" (which the LW was really asking).

The older I get, the more I agree that unapologetically being yourself is an effective way to make friends, because it screens out incompatible people. If you're irritated by the way I play with my hair or how I glom onto words where the presence or absence of a hyphen switches meaning (resign vs. re-sign, for example) or the way I forget to ask how your day was half the time, it's better that we aren't friends.

But LW wants to make friends with these particular housemates, because they live with them. It is possible that their whole and unapologetic self might not be as compatible with the housemates, like how you sometimes have to bite your tongue to get along in family or the workplace or other contexts where a bunch of people a thrust together rather than choosing each other. Unfortunately, LW wants more than to just get along, they want to be actual friends, and I don't know how to make that happen. It's a skill I've never managed to develop.

Carolyn Hax:

I am the only child of my father's current wife, and have much older half-siblings. When I was little, one sister was very sweet to me; over the years, though, as her relationship with our father had ups and downs, she would stop speaking to him and therefore to me. The first time was when I was 7, and I didn't hear from her for five years.

It has happened periodically since. She has ignored most of the major milestones in my life, and excluded me from hers while not doing so with the rest of our siblings.

When I asked why, she told me she could not separate her feelings about our father from her feelings toward me.

I am expecting my first child and am yet again disappointed by my sister's lack of acknowledgment. I would like to protect my child from her alternating warmth and hurtful indifference. Would it be inappropriate to keep her out of his life?

I feel so sorry for this LW, because while she truly (and understandably) does feel like she and the half-sister are siblings and wants her idea of what constitutes sisterly love from her, the half-sister (understandably) doesn't view LW as much more than some random relative you see when you're getting together with your family.

Let's start with the half-sister's point of view. It sounds from the letter like she never lived with their father during LW's life, she just saw LW when she visited her father. When LW was born, half-sister (hereinafter "HS") saw her as a cute little baby whom she saw when she was visiting her father. Then as LW got older, HS saw her as a small child whom she saw when she was visiting her father. If we assume HS is 10 years older than LW (and it sounds like it could be much more), then it would never have occurred to HS to develop a separate relationship with LW, because LW was just too young for it to have any substance. Would it ever occur to you, either currently or when you were in your late teens, to develop a substantive relationship with a six-year-old? Probably not. You'd be perfectly nice to them, play with them and talk to them when you're in their presence, maybe buy them a birthday gift so you have an excuse to shop for toys, but you're just in different worlds and you'd just see them when you see their parents.

On top of all this, it also sounds like HS has full siblings who grew up in the same household as her. If you've lived with your siblings, that is, for better or for worse, what defines the sibling relationship - having shared space, fought over the last piece of cake, tried to kick each other out of the bathroom, messed with each other's Barbies, puked on each other during long family road trips. Someone whom you only see occasionally simply isn't going to feel as much like a sibling. Without that sense of constant competition, they're going to feel more like a cousin, or, if the age difference is significant, like some relative's kid. As cruel as it sounds to say, their relationship simply isn't personal.

Meanwhile, LW only has these much-older half-siblings, so to her that's what a sister is. These half-siblings are all the siblings she has, they've been her siblings her whole life, and to her the relationship is very personal. Perhaps HS was around more in the early years of LW's life because when you're younger (a student or recently launched young adult, for example) you spend more time in parental households then drift away as you get older.

This is so sad because it's really nobody's fault. HS's actions and feelings are perfectly natural and understandable from her point of view, and LW's feelings are perfectly natural and understandable from her point of view. It would never occur to HS that LW might see her as such a big part of her life, and it would never occur to LW that HS could see her as not particularly relevant but it is in no way intended as a dis. HS is the only sister LW has ever known, but HS doesn't see LW as a sister for reasons completely beyond LW's control and that no way reflect either person's worth.

And, once again, it comes down to someone wanting to make another specific person like them.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The responsibilities of Canadian citizenship

Sometimes you hear people say in letters to the editor etc. that there's too much emphasis on our rights as Canadian citizens and not enough on our responsibilities. I gave this some thought, and realized I have no idea what my responsibilities specifically as a Canadian citizen are. I mean, I assume I'm doing it right since no one has complained, but as I was born into citizenship it's not something I've ever had to give a moment's thought to. So I googled it.

From Citizenship and Immigration Canada:

* to obey Canada’s laws;
* to express opinions freely while respecting the rights and freedoms of others;
* to help others in the community;
* to care for and protect our heritage and environment; and
* to eliminate discrimination and injustice.

Citizens have all the responsibilities listed above and the responsibility to:

* vote in elections.

That sounds an awful lot like Wheaton's Law: "Don't be a dick." Most people do these things anyway, without even giving a moment's thought to citizenship, just because they don't want to be the kind of asshole who doesn't.

Does anyone really require it being made part of the responsibilities of citizenship to do these things? Would the fact that they're the responsibilities of citizenship change the mind of the kind of person who isn't inclined to do these things? What are these letters to the editor writers experiencing that they think it's so important greater emphasis be put on these things in their specific capacity as responsibilities of citizenship?

Although, I do see a lot of potential for fun to be had incorporating these factors in their specific capacity as responsibilities of citizenship when emailing our elected representatives...

Things They Should Invent: sexy nighties with built-in support

Picture a long, sleek, sexy nightgown. A bit shiny, spaghetti straps, the kind of thing that could almost-kinda-sorta look like a simple formal dress. The kind of thing you might wear for seduction, but also might wear to bed at home just for yourself, to feel sexy and feminine. Nice, eh?

The problem is, if you're well-endowed, it just doesn't work as well. You're walking around with your arms folded under your breasts so you don't flop around, and they ooze unattractively out your armpit holes when you lie down. That just isn't sexy at all.

The solution? A bit of support. Nothing hardcore - no underwires or anything - but maybe a few elastics or something just to keep the girls from straying outside their designated territory, like you might have in a bathing suit. I've seen bras installed in babydoll-type nighties that clearly are not intended for sleep at all, why not also do it for things that a person might ostensibly sleep in?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Things They Should Study: do dynamic opinions ever change direction?

There are many many things in life I don't know everything about. So in circumstances where I don't know everything but I still need to have an opinion, I tend to pay attention to my dynamic opinions. The more I learn about X, the more I think Y. For example, the more I learn about WWI, the more I think it wasn't a worthwhile war. The more I learn about real estate, the more I think it shouldn't be treated as an investment. The more money I make and the more taxes I pay, the more I feel it's essential to use our taxes to strengthen our social safety net.

What I'm wondering: are dynamic opinions reliable in the long term, or do people's dynamic opinions ever reverse directions? If so, under what circumstances? Are there specific triggers?

Slices of life

1. Last time I went to the library, I found a teensy, adorable, baby blue mitten on the ground, probably thrown by some baby in a stroller playing the "What happens when I throw things out of the stroller?" game. It was so tiny and cute I just had to pick it up off the ground and carefully place it on a nearby newspaper box. Today I went to the library again, and the mitten was still there on the newspaper box. That made me feel about three conflicting and irrational emotions at once.

2. I was at Shopper's trying to decide whether I want my eyelashes to be 70% curlier or 10x more voluminous. Meanwhile, the guy browsing the shelves next to me is doing the "Avoid eye contact so the other person doesn't notice you" thing. Which was odd, because he wasn't someone I knew at all even in passing, he was just some random stranger. Meh, whatever. I went with 10x more voluminous and continued my shopping. It wasn't until I had finished my shopping, waited in line, paid for my purchases, and was leaving the store that it occurred to me that perhaps the reason he was shy and/or trying to avoid being notice was because he was a man shopping for cosmetics.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Code or divorce law?

I was watching Some Like It Hot, and the guy who manages to get engaged to the millionaire says that his plan is not to tell the millionaire he's really a man until "Like right after the ceremony. Then we get a quick annulment, he makes a nice little settlement on me and I keep getting those alimony checks every month."

Could you get alimony from an annulled marriage in the 1950s? Or were they not allowed to say "divorce" in the movies?

Or was it just a flawed plan to start with?

Currently on repeat

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Things They Should Invent: commission disclosure

All business should be required to post prominently, both on their website and in their stores, whether their employees get paid commission. That way we as consumers could make informed decisions.

This comes to mind as I go through the dance of buying new glasses. I've been feeling uninspired by the offerings available, and have been considering going into an optician and asking them "If you could put me in any frames, which ones would they be?" I wouldn't necessarily buy those automatically, but perhaps they might be able to match me up with something more suitable that I would have overlooked. But if they're on commission, I can't trust them to give me pure fashion advice, because they might also be trying to upsell me.

On the other hand, I always do the fashion aspect of my glasses shopping without my prescription in hand. That way, no one can possibly pressure me into buying anything and I am forced to revist my decision another day to see if I still like them. So the person who helps me with all the trying on isn't necessarily going to be the person who finalizes the sale. I'd very much like to know if they're on commission, so I can make sure the person who did all the work gets the commission.

Friday, December 04, 2009

New Rules

1. Parents are allowed to be overprotective on one condition: their kids get to choose what they want to be overprotected from. The parents can decide how many things they need to be overprotective about. For example, a parent might feel the need to be overprotective about six things. Then their kid will give them a list of six things they want to be overprotected from.

2. If you're trying to advertise something or get people to donate to charity or otherwise try to get people to do different things with their money, you have to work under the assumption that they're already being mindful about how they're using their money. "You could have X for the price of a cup of coffee a day!" But aren't you, personally, buying coffee when you need coffee and not buying coffee when you don't need coffee? Give others the respect of making the same assumption about them.

3. Many people and/or philosophies feel the need to encourage people to appreciate and/or be thankful for the simple things in life and/or the important things in life. That's fine, but you have to let them choose which simple/important things they want to appreciate/be thankful for rather than dictating it to them.

I wonder if people will one day learn to read non-predicted text

I wanted to add my optometrist's office's phone number to my cell phone. I typed in the number, then for the contact name I typed "optometrist". Unfortunately, the contact name field doesn't have predictive text, so what came out was "mptndtpgpt".

We all see predictive text typoes every once in a while, in text messages and on twitter. For example, "me" and "of" are spelled with the same keys, and we've seen them get confused with each other often enough that we can generally tell what was intended. I wonder if one day we'll become familiar enough with them that someone will be able to look at "mptndtpgpt" and see that it was obviously meant to say "optometrist"?

Things They Should Invent: load content before environment

Especially when using a slow computer or network, I often find myself staring at the header of a website while waiting for the actual content to load. The browser is processing the header and the sidebar and the widgets and the archives and the ads, and I don't care about any of that stuff. I just want to see the content.

So what we need is a new web standard: load content first. This would mean that the space in the template for content would be at the top of the template document, and would then be followed by the headers and sidebar and any in-body style sheets and widgets whatever other detritus is on the page. The result would be that if the page is loading slowly, we'd first see the content in the default font without the surrounding environment, and then the environment would appear as the page loads. Stuff might shift around as the page loads, but at least you could start reading the article right away instead of having to stare at the header while you wait for stuff to load.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Why is it normal for kids to pick out their parents' nursing home?

I don't know a whole lot about nursing homes, but I could learn if I have to. My parents (who are in their 50s) probably don't know much more than I do about nursing homes unless they've been doing some research lately, but they could also learn if they have to. We all have access to the same information and the same resources. If a nursing home decision had to be made right this exact minute, I am no better equipped than my parents to make this decision.

So why would I suddenly be better equipped 30 years from now? Yes, I'll probably learn more stuff from living in the world. But so will they - they live in the world too. Yes, I know some people get dementia or similar, but it's practically expected that the adult children are making their parent's care decisions instead of the parent making their own decisions. Why aren't the elders making these decisions for themselves?

This happens in other areas too. People manage their parents' money. Why? Weren't the parents managing their money before their kids were even born? Why would you lose that ability? Scammers prey on seniors. Why are seniors more susceptible to scams? Shouldn't they be even more familiar with potential scams since they've been around longer?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hustle and bustle

I've often heard people say that they choose to live in cities because they enjoy all the hustle and bustle, being in the middle of everything. I find that odd, because to me it's irrelevant. I chose to live here because of convenience - everything is right there! It seemed odd to me that such a major life decision would be based on how many extras are walking through the frame of the movie of your life.

But then I saw this picture of Amsterdam taken by Alfie Hitchcock, the photographer on Eddie Izzard's tour (which should totally add a Toronto date to the itinerary, btw) and thought how it's rather amazing that there are real people, living real lives, in a place that looks like that. The next day, on my way to work, I tried to imagine what my corner of the world would look like to someone from another country. Walking down the street, I wasn't quite able to see it from foreign eyes, but I noticed what kept attracting my attention was all the stuff that was happening. The crane building the new condos was lifting a big heavy load. There was a truck delivering beer, a truck delivering shoes, and a truck delivering kitchen utensils. The mailman was delivering mail. People were rushing out of coffee shops with take-out cups of coffee. As I tried to view my life through foreign eyes, what was attracting my attention was all the hustle and bustle. But why?


When I was 10 years old, our family went on a vacation to England, the first week of which was spent in London. We flew into Gatwick airport and took a train into the city proper. I was really surprised by what I saw out the windows of the train - some of it was dirty, some of it was ugly, some of it was shabby. This was not what I expected. (Especially since I wasn't aware at the time that trains usually see the backs of things, not the front face that they present to the world). I'd always thought of Europe as the pictures I'd seen in storybooks, which didn't include peeling paint and pollution.

The flat we were staying in was a bit of shock too. The building was old (by my North American standards) - so old that it had originally been built without plumbing, and a toilet and a shower had been haphazardly installed in two separate closets later - literally water closets! But what was even more surprising was that when you looked out the back window, you saw roofs and chimneys of other buildings. They were old too, and kind of grungy, like the roofs in Mary Poppins. We could see other people's back windows from our back windows!

The other thing that was a bit of a shock, and I don't know if this is cultural or just because I was sheltered at home, was hints of human sexuality in media. In the Tube stations there were movie posters featuring a nude woman covered by a sheet. The sheet covered everything that needed to be covered, but it was apparent from the arrangement that she was nude underneath - no possibility for her to be wearing underwear or anything. I also clearly remember a cover of a women's magazine with a reference to "making love" and a man with his hands on a woman's (clothed) buttocks, which caused me to spend some time trying to figure out where a man touching your bum comes into the process of a penis going into a vagina. Magazine racks included magazines with pictures of topless women on the cover. TV sitcoms included sexual innuendo. This was an adult world, and I had literally never seen anything like it in my life.

This was a scary place, this London. It was quite clearly intended for adults, and it quite clearly had history far beyond anything I could possibly imagine. I wasn't used to this. I grew up in a house that my parents bought brand new when they were pregnant with me, and many of my friends lived in similar houses in a neighbourhood that was all built at the same time - a whole neighbourhood intended for child-rearing. Our house backed onto a ravine, so I wasn't used to being able to see into other people's space. My world consisted of a few winding streets on the 15 minute walk to my elementary school, with nothing more complex than a little park with swings and climbers, and a Becker's where we could buy candy. The rest of the world I saw through the window of a car. We'd go to my grandparents' houses and they were smaller and older, but that made sense because my grandparents were smaller and older. Sometimes I'd go on errands and stuff with my parents, we'd go places in cities, we'd go to tourist things, but these were just sets for different scenes in the movie that was my life. Just like in the books I read, I was clearly the protagonist, the different places I went were just sets, and the space in between viewed through the car window was nothing more than pictures to entertain me on the ride.

In London, I was quite obviously not the protagonist. This was an adult world, and there was no effort to hide that from the children. Because school was still in session when we were there, we would often be the only children in sight, and as a result I felt constantly out of place. It also had history. People had been there before, and they were relevant. I saw pictures from the 1940s of Tube stations - actual, real-life Tube stations that I had been in, in real life, just moments earlier - filled with people in suits and skirts hiding from WWII air raids. I saw pictures of Victoria Station, which I had actually been in, from the 19th century, filled with long skirts and top hats. All kinds of people had been there, most of them adults, doing important and historical things. They had left their dust and their fingerprints and their antiquated attempts to install toilets. I, 10 years old, in a sweatshirt and running shoes, was irrelevant to this world of grownups in suits and/or mohawks, walking in the footsteps of generations before them, through streets that had been bombed by nazis and shat on by horses and built by kings. I wasn't the protagonist. I wasn't even an extra. I was just some random kid who had accidentally wandered onto the set. I didn't belong there at all. It was terrifying.

But after a couple of days in London, I had a revelation: I knew how to use the Tube. I had been on public transit before, but I had always simply been following my parents, who knew where they were going. In London, I watched them figure it out, and saw that it was actually quite simple. I could totally use it independently! (Wasn't allowed to, being only 10, but I unquestionably had the ability.) Once we went to some town or something on the outskirts of London, a trip which involved a couple of different tube lines and one or two trains. Looking at the map, I could totally figure out how to get there myself. I had the ability to go to another town! Unilaterally! This was a super power! I spent hours looking at the gorgeous and complicated London Underground map figuring out how to get places. This world was terrifyingly big and old and adult, but I could navigate it! I had the ability to be a perfectly competent part of this big scary adult world just like all those grownups on the train! I had literally never before in my life felt adult competence, and I was feeling it not at home where I was the protagonist, but in this big, old, adult place where I clearly didn't belong. It had never before even occurred to me that I might ever one day - not even in the distant and adult future - experience such competence and empowerment. But the moment I realized I could navigate the London Underground, it occurred to me for literally the first time in my life that I might one day be able to fit into, or at least move undetected through, a world that is so much bigger and grander than me.

I've had an affection for trains ever since, and to this day, after nearly 10 years living in Toronto, I still feel a little bit cool when I take the subway.


So back to Toronto in 2009. I'm quite clearly not the protagonist here. I'm nothing more than an unnamed extra, and I'm quite content in that role. But as I walk down the street, watching all the hustle and bustle, I can see that it all relates to me. Those condos the crane is building? The people who live there will be my neighbours - at the very least I'll be able to recognize their dogs. Those trucks delivering stuff? I totally shop at those businesses. It's very likely that I'll drink that beer, buy those kitchen utensils, or try on those shoes. That mailman? He knocked on my door one hot, sunny, summer Saturday and handed me the Harry Potter book I was eagerly awaiting. That coffee shop? I once sat in there for an hour, waiting out a freak thunderstorm in which my shoes got wrecked and my foot injured. For the price of a cup of coffee they let me use whatever resources they could scrounge together to dry myself off, repair my shoes, and give first aid to my injured foot so I could get home.

I'm part of it! Not a big part, not an important part, but have my little niche and fit into it nicely, despite the fact that this world is so much bigger than me.