Friday, December 31, 2010

Why I don't have a New Year's resolution this year

The past three years, I've come up with unconventional New Year's resolutions that have proven to be very useful and have had a lasting positive impact on my life.

I actually did come up with one for 2011: to trust my instincts. I've observed that my instincts end up being correct about things they really have no right to be, even when people who are smarter than me ended up being wrong (e.g. this whole recession thing we've got going on), so I decided my resolution would be to blindly trust my instincts in all things until they're proven wrong, with the goal of learning where exactly the boundaries of my instincts lie. I was totally prepared to take risks even in serious areas of life like money, and totally prepared to make mistakes. My reasoning was that I haven't made my share of mistakes in life yet, so I may as well make them now.

Unfortunately, before I could even get my resolution blogged, life threw a wrench in my plans. I had to make a decision that would affect other people. All available evidence told me one thing. My instincts told me another thing. If I had followed my instincts and they'd ended up being wrong, my decision would have hurt someone else long term. I couldn't risk it, so I went with the evidence. I may never know if this decision ended up being right, and if I do get a chance to find out it may take a couple of years. If it ends up being wrong I'm definitely revisiting the instinct thing, but based on what I know at the moment I can't justify going around making decisions that affect other people based solely on some possibly-foolish New Year's resolution.

I could totally write it off and say "That was 2010, this is 2011!" and go barging ahead. I could totally make an amendment. "Trust your instincts...except when it affects someone else." But that would be contrary to the spirit of the original resolution. I wouldn't be doing what I originally intended, I'd just be putting on a show to keep up my resolution tradition.

I don't have anything else I could use as a resolution. They've always been the one thing I have to do, not some random bit of virtue that I should be doing anyway like losing 20 pounds, or an arbitrary denial of one of life's simple pleasures like eating less junk food. So I'm entering my 30s resolution-less. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Refining Scott Adams' tax model

Scott Adams proposed a tax model where the rich support the poor. I've thought of a modification whereby businesses support the unemployed and underemployed.

We begin by identifying what I will define as the "corporate tax pool". The corporate tax pool is a dollar amount equal to a fair, reasonable, and comfortable living (for mathematical simplicity, we'll say $50,000) multiplied by the number of people in Canada.

In lieu of whatever the current method for calculating corporate tax is, every company's taxes owing is equal to their share of the corporate tax pool. A company's fair share of the corporate tax pool is determined by calculating their business revenues as a percentage of Canada's total business revenues. If, for example, a large corporation's revenues are equal to 1% of all of the business revenue generated in Canada, then that corporation is responsible for paying 1% of the entire corporate tax pool.

However, from this tax payable is deducted the total salary and benefits the corporation pays to its employees. So if the corporation's payroll is equal to or greater than its share of the corporate tax pool, it doesn't pay any taxes. If its payroll is less than its share of the corporate tax pool, it pays taxes. The taxes collected through the corporate tax pool pay for social assistance for people who are unemployed or underemployed.

Ultimately, all businesses collectively have to pay for all people collectively. They can do so by hiring people, paying them salary, and getting productive and/or revenue-generating work out of them, or by paying taxes that are used to fund social assistance. I know that in my current job, the revenue I generate for my employer is between two and three times my salary, so if it's a choice between paying taxes to support me or hiring me as a worker, hiring me wins by far.

Things I haven't figured out yet: Might this somehow create an incentive for employers to pay employees no more than $50,000? Conversely, if there's high unemployment but very high salaries for the jobs that do exist, could that leave the unemployed high and dry? Is it fairer to use revenue or profit to calculate each company's fair share of the corporate tax pool? (I chose revenue because my understanding is that a company can use accounting tricks to appear to have very low profit on paper, but it's possible I'm missing something.)

Edited to add: Another thing I haven't figured out is the impact of public sector, not-for-profit, and other employers that wouldn't pay taxes. I know that there are an awful lot of public sector jobs (the number half a million comes to mind but I'm not sure if that's right), but they'd be operating outside this whole system. I'm not sure how this would affect it. The easiest workaround I can think of at this precise moment is to subtract the number of employees of non-tax-paying employers from the calculation of the corporate tax pool, but there would still be other impacts I can't see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Analogy for the current state of municipal politics?

The following is a quote from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germ, and Steel, on the subject of why and how China lost its technological advantage over Europe.

The end of China’s treasure fleets gives us a clue. Seven of those fleets sailed from China between A.D. 1405 and 1433. They were then suspended as a result of a typical aberration of local politics that could happen anywhere in the world: a power struggle between two factions at the Chinese court (the eunuchs and their opponents). The former faction had been identified with sending and captaining the fleets. Hence when the latter faction gained the upper hand in a power struggle, it stopped sending fleets, eventually dismantled the shipyards, and forbade oceangoing shipping.


That one temporary decision became irreversible, because no shipyards remained to turn out ships that would prove the folly of that temporary decision, and to serve as a focus for rebuilding other shipyards.


From time to time the Chinese court decided to halt other activities besides overseas navigation: it abandoned development of an elaborate water-driven spinning machine, stepped back from the verge of an industrial revolution in the 14th century, demolished or virtually abolished mechanical clocks after leading the world in clock construction, and retreated from mechanical devices and technology in general after the late 15th century. Those potentially harmful effects of unity have flared up again in modern China, notably during the madness of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, when a decision by one or a few leaders closed the whole country’s school systems for five years.

The first thing that came to mind as I read this was the harmful and far-reaching decision to kill Transit City. Is Toronto being collapsed?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Things They Should Invent: Thresholds Edition

"Well done!" threshold

I once read that if someone who's in jail is pregnant and goes into labour, they keep her shackled while she's in labour. Could you actually escape while in labour? That's like the rule against taking things like tweezers and nail clippers on an airplane. Could you actually hijack an airplane with nail clippers? If someone could escape from prison while in labour, or hijack an airplane with tweezers, we should just acknowledge their sheer talent and say "Well done!" There should be a threshold like this for everything. Rather than inconvenience large numbers of people in case of something remote and unlikely, we should acknowledge that if anyone can actually pull off the remote and unlikely thing, they probably deserve to win.

"Don't have to give them a chance any more" threshold

People keep saying to me of new Toronto mayor Rob Ford "You should give him a chance." As it happens, I sent him an email shortly after he was elected, as I do for everyone who's newly elected to represent me. Since he apparently has a reputation for being very good at solving individual citizens' problems, I wrote about the issue that's the biggest problem for me personally, namely a delay in funding to a specific part in Transit City. In my email, I quantified the monetary value of the lost time that this will cost me (well above what I pay in municipal taxes, BTW) and explicitly stated that any delay to this particular section will be more harmful to me than any other policy enacted by any level of government in my lifetime.

And then, on his first day of work, he came into work early to completely kill Transit City. Not just delay, not just the part that I need, the whole thing. The worst any government policy has ever hurt me, and he did it first thing on his first day, before even the start of normal office hours.

I don't think I should have to give him a chance any more.

I'd very much like that threshold clearly defined for broad applicability.

"Shut up and do it" threshold

This initially came to mind in the context of Transit City as well. My personal transit policy is rapidly becoming "Build something! Anything! Just build it now!" I was thinking about all the money that had been invested and the contracts that had been signed and the fact that they've already broken ground in at least one place, and it occurred to me that there must be some point of no return in project planning, where it simply isn't worthwhile any more to slow progress and go back to the drawing board in the hope of improving.

Then I got thinking that that would probably apply to other areas of life as well. How many couches do you have to look at before you should just buy the best of the ones you've already seen? How long should you spend trying to find the best price on something? I find that the more I research buying a condo, the less I know. I'd very much like some external indicator of when I've done enough research and can just go ahead and act.

Useless advice threshold

If a person has given you a certain critical mass of useless advice in your life, you are no longer obligated to go through the motions of listening to/respecting them any more. I want this quantified, so I can call people out.

Same old story threshold

Again, if a person tells you the same story a certain number of times, you can tell them to shut up without being considered rude. This needs to be formally quantified.

Noblesse oblige threshold

In a (not always successful, obviously) effort to be open-minded and considerate and not a total egomaniac I often find myself saying things like "Well, maybe it's different if you have a lot of money, but in my experience..."

But really, by general standards of noblesse oblige, shouldn't they be accommodating me and not vice versa?

I'm already a huge proponent of the idea that if one person has been in the other's position, it's up to the person who has been in both positions to identify with the other. In a conversation between a child and an adult, it's incumbent upon the adult to be able to figure out where the child's coming from. It's incumbent upon parents to know where their childless friends are coming from. It's incumbent upon teachers to know where their students are coming from. And I think, building on this, it's incumbent upon people who have more money to know where people with less money are coming from. It's incumbent upon car people to remember what it's like not to have a car.

There needs to be a threshold where a person is "above" you by a certain amount, you aren't required or expected to take their situation into consideration, but they do have to take yours into consideration.

How to connect a Dell XPS 15 to an external monitor that only has VGA input

On the Things I Wasn't Expecting list: my new laptop doesn't have VGA output. And my existing monitor only has VGA input. I'd been hoping to plug the laptop into my existing peripherals for everyday at-home use (Q: Why? A: Ergonomics and because I tend to eat and drink at the computer.) so this threw a wrench in my plan.

The solution: a VGA to Mini DisplayPort adapter. The Mini DisplayPort (with which I was unfamiliar going in) is another video input, and is located (as of December 2010) at the back right (as you're facing the screen) corner of the computer, just behind the XPS logo. I found them at Future Shop but not The Source, but didn't look anywhere else. Apple appears to manufacture them, so you can probably get them through the Apple Store too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When I get older I will be stronger

For years, people have been telling me that your 30s are way better than your 20s. Here are some things I can do at 30 that I couldn't do at 25.

- Ask clients for information and ask colleagues to do work-related things without feeling drama and angst about it.
- Coach students.
- Outright correct senior translators when necessary.
- Neutrally (not over-apologetic, not over-assertive) ask to take vacation time etc. to which I'm entitled.
- Outright but nondefensively admit the failings in my social skills in a way that way usually (85% of the time) comes across as either charming or disarming*
- Entitlement, the easiest 70% of the time that I need to do it.*
- Admit the limitations resulting from my less pleasant personality traits (phobias, introversion, shyness, general neuroses) rather than pushing through them trying to be a good girl and then melting down because I can't sustain it by brute force.
- Recognize when I'm starting to melt down and take a step back to regroup.
- Remember that I can walk away from nearly anything whenever I want, so go in without feeling angst about OMG what if I don't want to do this a year from now?
- Politely redirect relatives who are about to go off on unpleasant rants (maybe 60% of the time I need to do it)*
- Neutrally (non-apologetically but non-provocatively) and matter-of-factly tell parents that I've done something they wouldn't approve of.
- Do business with businesses on the terms I prefer, not what I think they want their terms to be, i.e. walk in and ask for what I need (or don't ask and just browse idly) rather than coming with fiction that I think they expect.*
- Look someone I have a crush on in the eye and talk to them. The words that come out are still stupid, but there's eye contact and talking.*
- Express uncertainty about the aspects of my statements that I'm uncertain about while still retaining the credibility of my overall statement (and, in fact, make my expression of uncertainty give the credibility to my overall statement.*
- Talk in a large group, and somehow get people to listen to me attentively as though what I'm saying is of interest. (possibly *)

*Items with an asterisk are things for which Eddie Izzard gets at least partial credit

I'm looking forward to seeing what I'll be able to add to this list on my 35th birthday.


From The Star:

IF TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: This year, dealing with two different forces or situations helps you perfect the art of juggling. Use your creativity to create a middle ground. You also can allow opposite issues to just flow, deciding you don’t need to do anything. Your view has a uniqueness that is much in demand. If you are single, separate your personal and professional lives. Don’t let one take root in the other. Everyone will be happier that way — above all, you. If you are attached, the two of you need to respect your differences. Often, if you detach, you can see the validity of your sweetie’s ideas. Encourage differences. Life as a couple could be more exciting that way. Cancer has a way of testing your limits.

The only Cancer I know (to my knowledge) is my mother.

From The G&M:

IF TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: What you say is important, but the way in which you say it will determine whether or not others take you seriously. Don’t make big claims that you may not be able to live up to. Be modest in your aims, and exceptional in your efforts.

Sounds like standard operating procedure.


This year's horoscopes are generally unremarkable. Last year's scared me, and I think the thing they were predicting ended up being the death of Transit City, which is going to have a strong negative impact on my daily life for decades to come.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Things They Should Study: kindness patterns

I blogged before about how I find that smaller kindnesses are bigger than bigger kindnesses. In my own life and experience, in the way my own mind and emotions work, the bigger kindnesses come more readily and with less effort, and feel like less of an imposition, whereas for the smaller kindnesses don't come readily and require more conscious effort (and, actually, use up more spoons for my introvert brain).

I'm thinking of all this because of a couple of people who have been in the news here in Toronto lately. (I know it's obvious who I'm talking about, but I'm not naming names in this post because I'm repeating hearsay and speculating on other people's thought processes. I don't want to slander people or propagate rumours or presume to know what's in their brains, but it happens that the inspiration for this idea and the best example of what I'm trying to explain is these specific individuals, so I'm compromising by making sure that this post isn't in their google results.)

The individuals in question have, with some frequency, very loudly and publicly made statements that I think we can all agree are ungenerous (in the sense of anti-generous rather than non-generous) about other people or groups of people. They are on public, often televised record calling names and yelling.

There are also many anecdotes of individual kindnesses and generosity perpetrated by these individuals. There are stories of them going far more out of their way than necessary to help someone who's having a problem. I know someone personally who has witnessed the more famous of these individuals making a specific effort to do something for a young fan despite the fact that he was going through a difficult time in his own life.

This juxtaposition is interesting. The fact that these people make ungenerous statements, yell, and call names often enough that they're known for it means that these ungenerous and rather angry thoughts are in their heads. After all, you don't utter something if the thought has never entered your head. But, at the same time, despite the ubiquity of the ungenerous thoughts in their heads, they're able to do the small kindnesses frequently enough to develop a reputation for it. I literally cannot fathom how a person's mind could possibly work that way, how both ungenerous thoughts and ease of inclination towards small kindnesses can coexist in the same brain, but it looks like it exists.

I certainly can't claim to be an objectively generous person, but I've never had thoughts as ungenerous as these individuals' public statements. I'm not saying this like it's virtuous or anything, it just doesn't occur to me. But despite the fact that my thoughts are less ungenerous, the smaller kindnesses for which these individuals are known don't come as easily to me. But, at the same time, bigger kindnesses and more macro-generous baseline behaviour (voting for the greater good, not speaking ungenerously about people in public) are default, practically second nature. I'd have to put thought and effort into not doing them. I can't say I never yell, but when I do it's more defensive. It's something like "Shut up and go away and leave me alone!" or "Why can't you just not hurt me?" rather than outright attacking someone. Again, I'm not claiming any of this as virtue, it's just how my brain works. And other people whom I like and with whom I identify seem to have brains that work this way too.

So this has me wondering: do different people have different patterns of generosity of thought vs. ease of small kindnesses vs. ease of big kindnesses? If so, does it correlate with some other factor? (Age? Gender? Wealth? Politics?)

This also has me thinking of something else I've noticed. There are some adults who consider a child polite based on the social formulas the child has been trained to use. If the kid says "Please" and "Thank you" and "Sir" and "Ma'am", they are deemed polite, without even thinking about looking at their actual behaviour. I find this odd because I, personally, don't care about the formulas at all. If a kid calls me by my first name and says "Can I have a cookie?", but they aren't a bully and don't wreck stuff or bring home a cockroach to keep as a pet, I consider them good and polite. I wonder if this correlates in any way? My gut instinct tells me that preferring children to use the correct social formulas regardless of actual behaviour would correlate with favouring small kindnesses over big kindnesses, but I have no evidence or anything.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things they should invent words for

There are people who think that if things are good for some people, they should be made equally good for other people.

And there are people who think that if things are bad for a number of people, they have no right to complain because they aren't the only one in this situation.

We need words - neutral words that do not pass any value judgement either way - for both of these phenomena. Because we need to talk about these phenomena. I've noticed people tend to engage in one or the other without much critical thought, and it's something we need to be aware of.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Analogy for "people want subways"

In one of the newly-built condo buildings in my neighbourhood, there's this gorgeous penthouse. Massive suite, south and east exposure, lots of rooms - a dining room and a breakfast nook and a fricking library! - and priced well into the range of $2 million.

I want it.

Now let's suppose, for plot purposes, I'm engaged and pregnant. I'm very soon (and non-postponably) going to have to be able to house my growing family. So I do the sensible thing and but a down payment on a condo that's big enough for three. It's a nice, clean, safe, sensible two-bedroom. Nothing posh, but it will do the job far better than the tiny one-bedroom I'm currently living in. A two-bedroom is a bit out of my price range, but my parents give me some money to help me out. In general they don't believe in helping out adult children financially, but they do see the value of this specific investment to make sure that their future grandchild is properly housed.

So all this happens. I'm gestating away, we've scheduled a wedding date and a move-in date, I've given notice to my landlord, I've signed all my mortgage papers and figure out how I'm going to budget for it and made a written agreement with my parents for their contribution...and then one day I google upon the floor plans of the gorgeous penthouse.

And I decide I want it.

So I abandon the condo I've already put a down payment on. I abandon my moving plans. I tell my fiancé "You're either with me or against me". And I insist on staying in my apartment until I can afford to move into the penthouse.

It's very likely I'm never going to afford the penthouse, and if I can it won't be any time soon. The baby will be born and we'll be too crowded in the interim. My parents might not give me any more money after I've thrown away my sensible plan on a whim. Because I've already given my landlord notice, they might jack up the rent if I want to stay (as they normally jack up the rent between move-outs and move-ins). My fiancé may or may not stay on given the crazy way I've been acting, and if he decides to leave it will be even harder to afford the penthouse and all the problems will worsen.

Wouldn't it be far better in every respect to move into the sensible condo and take proper care of my family until such time as we can afford the penthouse? My marriage would survive, my child would have a room of her own, I would retain the trust (and potential for future funding) of my parents, and life would be better for everyone.

This is how the people of Toronto feel about subways. Yes, we want subways. Of course we do! But we can make life better for far more people far sooner and make the transit network as a whole more resilient with Transit City, which is already planned and funded and ground-broken and ready to go. It is far more important to build something already than to delay any more in pursuit of the absolutely perfect plan.

Of course, the flaw in my analogy is that if I had put a down payment on a condo, I could probably eventually sell it and recoup my investment. But there's no way to recoup the money already invested in Transit City or the penalties that will be charged for breaking massive contracts with suppliers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things They Should Invent: use the TTC surplus to give everyone free rides

It seems the TTC has a $60 million surplus.

If they aren't allowed to keep and reinvest the surplus (I've heard that it isn't, but haven't been able to verify from an official source), they should be allowed to use it to give us free rides.

This idea was inspired by a comment on Torontoist by W. K. Lis. In response to the fact that the TTC is giving free rides on New Year's Eve at their own expense because they didn't get a sponsor this year, W. K. Lis said:

The TTC has a $60 million surplus this year. They would have to hand that surplus over to the city and then fight for it back next year. Better to use it up this year by giving it back to those who actually helped get the surplus, the riders. Even though it is only for one night.

That got me thinking: what if they did the same thing for more nights to use up the rest of the surplus?

According to this press release, it cost about $90,000 to provide free TTC between midnight and 4 a.m. on New Year's Eve. There are a few variables we're not seeing here (overtime pay, free fare increasing ridership and increased ridership increasing cost of free fare), but let's use that as a starting point to get the idea across.

If it costs $90,000 to provide 4 hours of free transit, then it costs 6*90,000=$540,000 to provide 24 hours' worth.

60,000,000/540,000 = 111.111111...

Therefore $60 million could buy 111 days (or just under 4 months) of free transit.

They might not want to use all of it, to leave some leeway in case of unforeseen circumstances or something, but maybe they could offer 2 or 3 months of free transit. Just announce "From January 1 to February 28, everyone rides free!" All Metropass subscriptions are suspended for these two months, and then the March Metropass is sent out as usual.

There would be a number of benefits. First and foremost, it would save Torontonians money! The poorest among us wouldn't have to wonder whether they should spend $3 on a bus ride or save money and walk during the coldest months of the year. There would be a bit more motivation for car people to walk rather than drive in bad winter weather, and every car that gets off the road will make life easier for the cars that are still on the road. Customer service might improve because TTC workers no longer have to worry about enforcing fare collection (my theory is that the need to enforce fare collection is at the root of most poor customer service). It would also get more people in the habit of taking transit, and some of them might stay in the habit. It's also possible the TTC could save money simply by not having to deal with fare media for a couple of months (don't have to print passes and transfers and tickets.)

Obviously the ideal is to reinvest the surplus, but if that isn't allowed they could certainly do worse than to give it back to Torontonians in kind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Temporary workarounds for when your computer enters power save during boot up

Yesterday, my computer froze completely and I had to do a hard reboot. During the reboot, it entered power save (just after the Windows XP screen) and couldn't be woken up. When I did another hard reboot, there were minor flaws with the graphics, which suggests that the problem is related to the video card somehow.

Restarting in Last Known Good configuration didn't help. A System Restore didn't help. Cleaning out the inside and reseating the RAM and video cards (because the internet suggested it) didn't help. I did manage to boot up in Safe Mode (press F8 at the BIOS screen, before the Windows screen shows up) and tried to update my video drivers, and it blue-screened on reboot (the error message was Driver IRQL Not Less Or Equal). So I tried rolling back the video drivers and it blue-screened and crashed before I could even see the error.

So currently the temporary workarounds I know are: boot up in Safe Mode with Networking and you can get on the internet and access some stuff. It will get you through the day and help you google through your troubleshooting. You can also choose Enable VGA on boot-up (through the same F8 method as to get into Safe Mode) and you'll have access to everything, but ridiculously low resolution (640x480) and graphics quality. When you boot up, you get an alert saying that your graphics settings are very low and offering to raise them, but doing so causes it to enter power save again.

I do not have a permanent solution to this problem. Since my googling was finding stuff about motherboards that's way over my head, and since my computer is 6 years old and a desktop, I've just bought a new laptop. So don't hold your breath watching this space for a permanent solution (although if you have one, please post in the comments for anyone who's googling!)

The computer is a 6 year old Dell Dimension 4700 and the video card is an Nvidia GEforce 6800.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gratitude immunity

Lately there's been an uptick in the number of people writing into advice columns to complain about having given a gift to someone or another but not receiving a thank-you note.

I was thinking about this, and it made me realize that I don't have the emotional need to be thanked. And I don't just mean I don't need a thank-you note. I mean I get no emotional reward whatsoever from being thanked. Whether I'm thanked or not makes no emotional difference. In fact, I often find being thanked embarrassing, and sometimes find myself in an emotional place where I'm hesitant to do things that others would likely appreciate because they might make a fuss out of it. When I get a very noble attempt at a thoughtful thank-you note for a present that was just picked off the registry on the basis of being in the right price range, I feel cringey for everyone involved.

At least part of this is coming from a self-centred place. When I buy a gift for someone, it's either to fulfill an obligation, or because I take pleasure in choosing/finding/giving that particular gift. If it's for obligation purposes only, it's a checkmark on my list and it makes no difference to me emotionally if they like it. If it's because I get pleasure in getting that particular gift, the pleasure is not diminished if they don't like it. I once gave someone a robot as a wedding present (for reasons related to an inside joke), and was greatly amused that I'd given a robot as a wedding present. Did they actually IRL like it? No idea. But who cares? It's a robot! As a wedding present!

Usually when there's any discussion of thank-you notes, someone says "They should be giving presents because they want to give presents, not because they want thank-you notes!" This view is often dismissed as childish, but maybe it's coming from other people who, like me, don't actually have this need to be thanked. I've been reading Miss Manners for a decade now so I'm more aware of the underlying sociological theory, but when I was a kid it really did feel like arbitrary hoops you have to jump through (especially since I'd never once in my life seen an adult write a thank-you note for anything - I'd quite reasonably concluded that it's something the grownups made me do because they were jealous that I got more presents than them.) For someone to say that they only enjoy giving gifts if they get thanked feels, to me, analogous to saying they can only enjoy their restaurant meal if the server says "Enjoy your meal!"

While I don't need to be thanked, I do need a big please. When something is being requested of me, I need mitigation that's proportionate to the size of the request. And I do need people to acknowledge the fact that I've done whatever I've done when it comes up (e.g. If I helped you with something, don't act like I never help you with anything.) But an actual "thank you" gives me nothing.

It would be interesting to see if there are other people like this, and, if so, what the correlating factors are.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reindeer games, like monopoly

When I was in elementary school, we'd have xmas carol singalongs. Whenever we sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we'd always sing the callbacks that weren't on the lyrics sheet.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Reindeer!)
Had a very shiny nose (shiny nose!)
And if you ever saw it (saw it!)
You would even say it glows (like a lightbulb!)

And the teachers would always scold us for singing the callbacks and try to get us to sing it without them.

In retrospect, looking at it as an adult, I find myself wondering: Why on earth did they care if we were singing the callbacks? They weren't by any stretch of the imagination naughty, they just weren't on the lyrics sheet. WTF?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Your Federation Station

I was saddened to hear of the passing of CityTV's Mark Dailey at the too-young age of 57. Like everyone, I know him as The Voice from the CityTV announcements. But what is strongest is my memory is is the "Your Federation Station" tagline.

It was the early 90s, I was a shy, awkward, dorky preteen, and a consummate Trekkie. Star Trek was my first fandom (although I didn't know the word yet), and the Enterprise was my happy place. I mentally wrote fanfic (although I didn't know the word yet) starring a curly-haired ensign Mary Sue (although I didn't know the word yet) who maybe sometimes got to kiss Welsey Crusher. It made me very happy.

However, the rest of the world had a problem with it. My classmates mocked me endlessly for being a Trekkie, and whenever I got too excited about something fannish, my parents would give me a lecture on how it isn't real.

On CityTV, Star Trek often aired right after Fashion Television. We'd see the last couple minutes of FT with models walking on the runways and Jeanne Becker talking to us like we know who Karl Langerfeld is. Then we'd get a quick shot of something mildly interesting happening on the streets of Toronto, Mark Dailey would say "You're watching CityTV: Your Federation Station." Then it was Star Trek time.

I found that all mildly validating. The TV station was acknowledging that Star Trek was appointment programming, and people cool enough to work for a TV station knew enough about Star Trek to namedrop the Federation. They segued smoothly from runway fashion to the bridge of the Enterprise via a brief shot of Toronto street life, without making a great big fuss over the fact that they're going from something cooler than I'll ever be to something that gets me mocked. As though it's completely unremarkable to have these two things next to each other. Familiarity with Star Trek juxtaposed with city life and fashion - two things that my bullies aspired to, that I didn't dare even think about aspiring to because I wasn't cool enough. It gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe what I was doing wasn't so bizarre after all.

Now that I've escaped to a bigger and better world where watching Star Trek, wearing fashion, and living in the city are all utterly unremarkable, I can see that it was just marketing. They're the channel with Star Trek, there is an audience for Star Trek, so they market that fact. Most people (including, actually, my bullies) do have enough of a passing familiarity with Star Trek that for a marketing team to come up with "Federation Station" is unsurprising. But even though it was marketing, it was the only validation I was receiving. In a world of mockery and lectures, the positioning of Star Trek as a good thing, as appointment TV, as something with which people on TV were familiar, as of interest to people for whom urban life is relevant, as not incompatible with fashion, all made me think that maybe there's nothing wrong with curling up on the couch to escape to the bridge of the Enterprise for an hour. And maybe, just maybe, the problem was with the people who gave me shit for it. It's a small thing, but small things can be important when you live in a small world and deal with small people.

And so, I mourn the loss of the man whose voice gave my child-self that flicker of reassurance.

Monday, December 06, 2010

More information please: how does Rob Ford's transit plan help the Pan Am Games?

Conventional wisdom is that Rob Ford's transit plan is focusing on Scarborough because of the Pan Am Games. But I just looked at a map and I don't think it makes sense to me.

Here are the things I know:

1. Rob Ford's transit plan (PDF) extends a subway along Sheppard to Scarborough Town Centre. Right beneath the subway map is a caption saying that it will be "in time for the Pan Am Games".

2. The major Pan Am Games facility in Scarborough will be the aquatic centre at U of T Scarborough.

3. Scarborough Town Centre is a 28 minutes bus ride from U of T Scarborough.

So how does this help for the Pan Am Games? I'm not super familiar with that part of Toronto, so it may be something that's obvious to people who spend more time there. What I'm seeing is a second route to a transit hub that's 28 minutes away from the Pan Am Games site, but nothing to help people get to the Pan Am Games site itself. What am I missing?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A clarification of the that/which rule

When I have to explain when to use "that" and when to use "which" to people who don't grok the rule, I've been using the "Use 'which' when you can take the clause out without changing the meaning" guideline.

I just realize that this could be stated more clearly:

Use "which" when you can take the clause out without changing the meaning or scope of the word that comes before "that" or "which".

Example 1: "Dogs _____ have been spayed or neutered are welcome."

If you take the "have been spayed or neutered" out, the sentence would be "Dogs are welcome". Which isn't entirely true. Not all dogs are welcome, just dogs that have been fixed. Therefore, the sentence requires "that". "Dogs that have been spayed or neutered are welcome."

Example 2: "Dogs _____ are a common pet among Canadian households are welcome".

If you take out "are a common pet among Canadian households", you get "Dogs are welcome". Which is true in this case. All dogs are welcome, and, by the way, they're a common pet. Therefore, the sentence requires "which". "Dogs, which are a common pet among Canadian households, are welcome."

Clauses starting with "which" should be offset by commas. Some sources will argue that this is not necessary, but if you want me to be happy with your work you should use the commas. Your mnemonic for this is if the clause is not strictly necessary to the meaning, you can pick it up by the commas and throw it away.

The commas surrounding the "which" clauses also tend to reflect how we would say the clause out loud. So if you find yourself pausing where the commas would go, consider carefully whether "which" is required.

If you can't remember that "which" goes with disposable clauses, your mnemonic is that "which" has a silent H, which could be removed without affecting the pronunciation (just as the clause could be removed without affecting the meaning.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Things I Don't Understand

1. What exactly is an "Alice in Wonderland" attitude towards terrorism?

One of the Wikileaks memos said Canada has an "Alice in Wonderland" attitude towards terrorism. I've read the article several times, and I still don't understand what exactly that expression means. Alice in Wonderland = falling down rabbit holes? Eating magic mushrooms that changes your size? I don't see what they're trying to say here. Can anyone enlighten me?

2. What's Rob Ford's angle in building a subway only in Scarborough?

Rob Ford wants to kill all the Transit City work currently underway and instead build a little bit of subway in Scarborough.

What's his angle on choosing Scarborough?

Two of the current Transit City projects - the Finch West line and the Eglinton Crosstown line - connect Etobicoke to the existing subway lines. Etobicoke is where Ford's old ward and the core of his support is located, and yet he makes a decision that very deliberately takes away any hope of transit improvement from this entire half of the city. He could have proposed Finch for his little subway (linking the top of the U along the way to make a more resilient loop). He could have let them keep building the underground part of the Eglinton Crosstown with a platform of working towards extending the rest of it underground, which would, again, make the system more resilient and make Torontonians feel their government is working towards a subway to the airport (which benefits everyone who ever needs to go to the airport.)

But instead he chose an option that completely ignores his core constituency. What's his angle?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


There's a rumour flying around that Rob Ford is going to completely kill Transit City. Like tomorrow. Despite the fact that $137 million has already been spent investing in it. That's right, before we even look at the costs of breaking the contracts with Bombardier and the other companies, not to mention the wasted time and lost productivity to the city as a whole resulting from failure to build the promised lines (for me alone, using the classic time = money calculation, that will add up to more than I pay in municipal taxes a year), he wants to take the equivalent of $54 from the pocket of every man, woman and child in the city and just flush it down the toilet, producing nothing and hurting many Torontonians.

When thinking about money, I find it useful to think of it in terms of what it will buy. So when I started composing this blog post, I started thinking about what $54 would buy in terms that we can all identify with. And sitting here on the cusp of December, with all the lights on people's balconies and carols being played in stores and even my fricking Tim Hortons cup being decorated, what came to mind was xmas gifts. $54 each sounds about right for a present under the tree for everyone (plus one from Santa if you're a kid and you've been good), and a stocking full of candy and tchotchkes. Everyone gets something that's a little bit nice and a little bit useful and makes life a little bit more pleasant.

So picture this: you come downstairs all xmas morning, all anticipation, to see Santa came! There are presents under the tree, there are candy canes poking out the top of the stockings, and there's even a bite out of the cookies you left out for him! Then your dad grabs a green garbage bag, throws all the presents in it, and throws it away.

As you all scream some variation of OMG WTF, he announces "We don't want toys and candy and sweaters, we want a Mercedes!"

Except that not all of you want a Mercedes. And some of you do actually need the warm cozy mittens that were in your xmas presents. And throwing out the presents isn't going to get you any closer to having a Mercedes, because the money has already been spent on it. And the price of a Mercedes would take up that entire new contract Mum just got at work, except that much of it has already been earmarked for various other household expenses. And a Mercedes doesn't even have enough seats for everyone in your large family.

If this rumour about killing Transit City is true, that's exactly what Rob Ford will be doing tomorrow.

Prove us wrong, Mr. Ford.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Either I'm getting old or Kids Today are geniuses

Several times this past week, I've seen small children doing that thing where you only step on certain coloured tiles or otherwise have to follow certain patterns in tiles or sidewalk cracks, which sometimes involve jumping around or walking in a way that may appear erratic.

I know what these kids are trying to do. I did it myself as a kid (and still do it sometimes as an adult). I totally respect their game, and I understand that if they step on the wrong tiles the alligators will get them.

But here's the weird part: every time I've seen this, I've been unable to recognize the pattern they were following! This is relevant because I kept walking across their paths, causing them to step on the wrong tiles and get eaten by alligators, and perhaps get scolded by their parents for fooling around and getting in the nice lady's way.

I don't mean to ruin their game or get them scolded, but for some reason the patterns followed in this game have been impenetrable to me lately. I don't know what this means.

Teach me about sunrise times

Look at this chart of sunrise and sunset times in Toronto in December 2010.

The solstice is December 21, with 8h 55m 34s of daylight. Sunrise is at 7:48 AM and sunset is at 4:43 PM.

But then sunrise time keeps getting later. It's 7:49 on December 23, 7:50 on December 25, and 7:51 on December 29. In fact, it takes until January 17 for sunrise time to get back to being earlier than it was on the solstice.

And I just noticed the same goes for the sunset. It's 4:43 on the solstice, but it's earlier than that on the days leading up to the solstice, going as early as 4:40 between December 7 and 11.

Why is this?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Things They Should Invent: accept paper in the organic waste stream

Before I bought a paper shredder, I'd dispose of important documents by ripping them up by hand and then putting some (but not all) of the pieces in my kitchen garbage. On top of the fact that the document was a) ripped up and b) not all in the same garbage bag, I then had the additional layer of security of it being really gross to retrieve the pieces, because they were in with egg shells and coffee grinds and apples cores and rotten lettuce.

As an added service to the public, the City should let everyone put any important papers that need to be disposed of in with their organic waste. Paper does biodegrade so it shouldn't hurt anything, and it will make pilfering personal documents out of the garbage at least more unpleasant, if not more difficult.

Things They Should Invent: chose the healthiest cans possible for food bank donation packages

Metro has this thing where you give a small amount of money at the cash register to purchase a "food bank package" - a few cans and other nonperishable food items in a little bag, to go in the food bank donation box.

I noticed that all the items in the food bank package are store brand items, which has me wondering how healthy they are.

In the past few years, my body's been reacting negatively when my sodium intake is too high. Unfortunately, I still crave the taste of salt, so I've been looking for ways to cut back the amount of sodium I consume in foods that don't address my salt craving. So I started reading nutritional information on the non-salty processed foods that I do eat, and I noticed that cheaper brands systematically have more sodium. And the store brand is nearly always the cheapest one. For things like soup and tomato sauce, they'd often have 30%-40% of your recommended daily intake in just one serving! (And we know that the servings based on which nutritional information is calculated tend to be smaller than what one person would normally eat in one sitting.)

I haven't examined every single product in the food bank package, and I haven't done compared any nutritional information other than sodium content (although high sodium content is certainly a risk factor for heart disease in and of itself), but this makes me worried that we might be giving the unhealthiest food to food banks, when we could be making our food bank donations significantly less unhealthy by just going a couple of items over on the same shelf.

At this point, someone is likely to argue "But they shouldn't be eating processed foods anyway, they should be eating wholesome fresh foods!" I'll do you one better: we shouldn't need food banks at all - our social safety net should be strong enough that people should buy their own groceries. But the fact remains that there are people who are hungry, and they're hungry right this minute and can't wait until we revamp the whole infrastructure. The existing system for getting food to needy people is food banks, and the nature of existing food banks requires large-scale donations canned and other nonperishable (and therefore processed) foods. And human nature is such that you'll get more donations by asking people to pay a harmless amount for a preselected package of goods than by requiring them to take the initiative and choose items to donate on their own.

What we can do right now, without interrupting the flow of food to needy people, is get someone to read the labels, pick the healthiest items off the supermarket shelf, and put those in the food bank packages. Then people won't have to choose between increasing their risk of heart disease and going to bed hungry.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I got from my bullies

Before I get into the substance of this post, I want to make one thing clear: my bullies did not make me stronger. There are a number of (rather loud) people who want my narrative to go that way. If I mention my bullying, if I point out that I was constantly told "just ignore them" and that didn't work at all (unless you count the fact that after years of ignoring them I ended up in a different physical location so they were never in the same room as me), the happy ending contingent says "But ultimately it made you a stronger person, right?"

No, it didn't. It seriously fucked me up. It made me (and I still am) skittish, paranoid, and defensive, entirely unable to predict how people would react and what was expected in real-life social situations. I'm about 10 years behind in my people skills and had to work hella hard to catch up that far. I still get cringey and hidey when I hear people whispering and giggling in a cube near mine, even though I know intellectually that it's just my co-workers talking about their weekends. I still look at the floor and avoid eye contact when I see cool teenagers.

But, that said, there have been a few odd positive outcomes:

1. I don't expect people to like or respect me. If someone doesn't want to be my friend or doesn't invite me to the thing, it doesn't hurt my feelings at all. That's to be expected. And if someone does want to be my friend or does invite me to the thing, that's a pleasant surprise. One of the things that really surprised me about cop behaviour at the G20 is that they were so sensitive to the most minor of slights, as though it actually hurt their feelings. That sort of thing would never bother me, because I consider it baseline. When people over whom I have authority (insofar as I have any authority) respect what authority I have, it's always a bit of a pleasant surprise. When stores that are cooler than me give me good customer service (which they always do), it makes my day. If they didn't, it would be an everyday annoyance, on par with missing the subway and having to wait another 4 minutes.

2. My self-concept is unattractive. When paint and spackle and engineering and technology can make me look attractive (which it often can), it always feels like a bit of an added bonus. When I look in the mirror and dislike what I see, that's SOP. I know a few people whose self-concept is attractive, and it's always a massive blow when they gain a few pounds or get hair sprouting where no hair should ever sprout. Such things will never cause me to lose self-esteem, because I'm used to being ugly.

3. I love being alone. All I ever wanted from my bullies was for them to leave me alone. And, in fact, one of the things I was bullied for was being alone at any given time, whether it was on the playground at recess or at home on a Friday night. So now that, as an adult, I can be alone on a daily basis and without social censure, I rejoice in it. It feels like a little victory. Some of the elders in my life find it difficult to leave the house and get depressed about being alone all day. I doubt I would ever get depressed in that sort of situation - on the contrary, I find it peaceful and very nearly liberating.

4. I don't fall for charming. We've all read Gift of Fear or otherwise heard about charming people who turn out to be scam artists or sociopaths. After years of seeing my peers turn up the charm for parents/teachers/cool kids and then turn around and bully me, I don't fall for that. Oh, I use it! I completely take advantage of other people's fake charming as a social lubricant. But I don't fall for it. I don't trust it, so it can't trick me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things They Should Study: what would it cost to make critical workers unbribable?

Apparently border guards might soon be authorized to strip search airport and port employees because they think these employees might be involved in smuggling illegal drugs.

This makes me wonder about the economics of the situation from the employees' point of view. How much money do they make? How much bribe money or whatever would they get for helping to smuggle drugs? How much bribe money can drug cartels afford to pay them? How much of a pay increase would it take to make this bribe money negligible to them? What if they offered the workers financial incentive greater than the bribe amounts for fingering known drug smuggling operations?

Has anyone done the numbers on this yet? If not, someone should.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More information please: why does the law care how many cars are in a driveway in the first place?

Recently in the news, someone got a ticket for parking in her own driveway. Apparently there's a by-law that if you have a single garage, you're only allowed to park one car in your driveway.

What I really want to know, but isn't mentioned anywhere in this article: how did such a thing come to be law in the first place?

The only hint in the article:

The restrictions are meant to reduce clutter in residential neighbourhoods, but city officials have said bylaw officers won’t actively seek out offenders.

So it sounds like someone thinks it's a problem when there are numerous cars in people's driveways. And because it's a law, it sounds like either enough people complained loudly enough about similar things or powerful enough people exerted enough influence to make this become a law. In any case, a critical mass of people seem to be looking at their neighbour's driveway and being bothered enough by the sight of multiple cars to take action.

I literally cannot imagine any circumstances under which I might care how many cars are parked in my neighbour's driveway. I cannot fathom any way that it might possibly affect me badly enough to want to get changes made to laws.

So how on earth did this all come about in the first place?

Things they Should Invent: opt-in window washing

Washing windows is hard, and if you're not good at it (like me), it isn't particularly effective because you leave streaks everywhere.

Every building I've lived in has hired professional window-washers to do the non-accessible windows, but has left the tenants to their own devices for windows on balconies (presumably because window-washing is expensive). But I've always had balconies (#FirstWorldProblems), so I've always been stuck making my windows streaky.

what landlords should do is give tenants the option to pay some money and have their balcony windows washed when the professional window washers are there. Then people who want their windows washed professionally can get it done, and people who'd rather do it themselves don't have to pay the money.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Spooky dream

Last night I dreamed that I was going to meet my mother and grandmother somewhere, but first had to pick something up at her house. As I looked through her kitchen for the macguffin, I accidentally hit something on her gas stove (IRL it's an ordinary, old-fashioned gas stove, but in the dream it was a multi-layered, wall-sized, pipe-organ-like affair). It started spurting flames and I couldn't figure out how to turn it off. Everything button I pressed and knob I turned just caused more flame to come out.

Then I noticed my grandfather standing behind me. He walked up to the stove and turned it off for me.

My grandfather has been dead for 10 years.

That was the first time in my life I have ever, to my knowledge, had a dead person turn up in a dream. I don't know what it means.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why do we talk about health care spending as a percentage of the overall budget?

You often hear health care costs spoken of as a percentage of the provincial budget. The Globe & Mail has been doing a series on this recently, and a number of people have expressed concern that health care represents too high a percentage of the budget.

I have a simple solution to that problem: provide free university tuition for everyone, double all social assistance rates, reimburse housing costs for all households earning under the poverty line, and increase taxes accordingly.

That doesn't address health care at all, does it? The end result would be exactly the same health care we have now at exactly the same cost. But health care would be a smaller percentage of the budget, because the budget as a whole would be bigger.

Looking at health care as a percentage of the budget doesn't address the number of dollars being spent, whether people are getting care we need, whether the aspects of health care not covered by OHIP are affordable, or whether we're getting good value for our money. It is dependent on a wide range of factors that are completely unrelated to health care.

So why do people keep talking about it this way?

What's missing from Remembrance Day

Last week, I saw a young vet selling poppies. He was definitely under 40, might even have been younger than me. (I can't tell age well in men, his head was shaved, and he was wearing the blue jacketed vet uniform that I'm used to seeing on elderly men.)

What is missing from Remembrance Day is acknowledgment that this is not okay!

I'm certain the people who first created Remembrance Day would be devastated that, nearly 100 years later, a young man - possibly a great-grandson of a WWI vet - is a war veteran!

This is not nothing. We shouldn't be scanning over without noticing it. We need to be acknowledging, at the very very least, that this is suboptimal.

Media coverage of Remembrance Day often mentions, with a tinge of sadness, that WWI and WWII veterans are dying out. I don't think that tinge of sadness is appropriate. Not that I want all my elders to die, but rather that if all the living veterans eventually die out, it will mean that we've succeeded in creating the peace and freedom that they all thought they were fighting for. If we're making more veterans, then we have failed and their sacrifices were in vain.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Still trying to figure out the proper name for a hodd-d-d-d-d

If you don't know what I mean by a hodd-d-d-d-d, watch Eddie here, starting at about 4:30:

What is that thing actually called?

Update: The always-awesome @TravelMaus tells me that it's a carpet sweeper! I've been trying to figure that out for ages! (It's awfully hard to google when you don't know what it's called)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Things They Should Invent: make all political donations anonymous

Currently, political donations are a matter of public record in the name of transparency, and there are all kinds of limits on who can donate and how much they can donate to prevent people from buying influence.

Better idea: make it mandatory for all donations to be anonymous. Donations are paid into some central organization and then distributed to the party or individual for which they are earmarked. This is done electronically and double-blind whenever possible, so no one knows or can find out how much anyone donated to anyone. (Yes, they could tell each other, but people who want to influence politicians could also lie about donating to them.)

Maybe they could even aggregate the money and pay it out to the politicos at regular intervals, so the politicos don't know the individual amounts. Why might this be important? Suppose I was trying to influence a politician, so I tell them that I donated a large amount of money to them. To prove to them that I actually made that donation, I could make it a strange number (like $1,097) and then specifically tell them the number.

The remaining mystery of the Toronto municipal election

One of the councillor candidates in Ward 22 was one Elizabeth Cook. I couldn't find any information about her. Her profile on the City of Toronto election site didn't include a website or even a campaign office phone number. She received no media coverage that I could find (with some media outlets even saying they weren't able to get in touch with her), and was not present at any of the candidates' debates. I put quite a bit of effort into looking, but the only evidence I could find of her existence was the fact that her name was on the candidates' list.

But she somehow got 1,900 votes. And what's even weirder is that she came in third out of the four candidates! And the fourth-place finisher, William Molls, had a website and a platform and attended all the debates and was mentioned in the media a few times, and even talked to people on twitter!

So I'm still super curious about who is this Elizabeth Cook? Did she have an actual campaign that I didn't see and couldn't find (and media outlets couldn't find either)? Who voted for her and why?

"My truth": what it means and why I keep talking about it

I've been using the phrase "my truth" a lot on this blog recently. I've heard the phrase criticized in other contexts. "What do you mean your truth? The truth is the truth. You don't get your very own truth!"

I can best explain with an example:

Taxes don't hurt.

That is my truth. My taxes have never hurt. When I had very little money I was getting refunds on all the taxes I paid, when I had a little more money I was paying only a small amount of taxes that really didn't make a difference to anything, and my net income has always increased whenever my gross income has increased. My taxes don't hurt and they never have hurt. That is true.

However, it's not necessarily true for everyone. Given the number of people who complain about taxes, it's reasonable to assume that some people's taxes hurt, and that is their truth.

Their truth does not negate my truth, and vice versa. The fact that my taxes don't hurt doesn't mean other people's taxes don't hurt, and the fact that other people's taxes hurt doesn't make my taxes hurt.

I've been glomming onto this concept lately because of the recently Toronto election, and especially the media coverage thereof. I kept hearing candidates and media telling me that I want/need/prioritize things that I don't, and barely heard my truth represented at all.

I've always tried to speak and write and blog in a way that acknowledges that what's right for me isn't right for everyone, but I can't go around marginalizing myself just because the loudest people don't agree with me. So now I'm focusing a lot more on expressing my truth. It's probably going to make my blog (and me) a lot more egotistical than usual, but it looks like I have to do it because no one else is going to.

Cars and yelling

This post is further to this braindump.

I've noticed a correlation between driving and yelly/angry behaviour.

A friend of mine once worked for the City of Toronto in a number of different offices, and she said that by far the most anger she ever faced was in the parking office. People get way more disproportionately angry about parking tickets or not being allowed to park where they want or not being able to find a parking spot than anything else. That is consistent with my own observations of life in general.

For the purposes of constructing a sensible sentence, I'm going to deem the set of all the people who have ever been the driver of a car in which I was a passenger "my drivers". I'd say a good 80% of the anger I have witnessed from my drivers has occurred while they were driving, even though the vast majority of the time I have spent with these people has been outside of the car.

My yelly fast-food customers were nearly all drivers, and actually most of the yelly behaviour came through the drive-thru.

Rob Ford's angry demographic skews towards drivers. And again, I'm supporting and they're opposing policies that would make driving less necessary.

Is driving scary? I think so, but not everyone does. Is driving stressful? I think so, but not everyone does. Is driving disempowering? No. Driving increases empowerment and agency and resilience.

So why does it correlate with an increase in anger and yelling?

Analogy for why I'd rather have the social safety be too generous than too stingy

Suppose you're having a bunch of people over for dinner and you're not entirely sure how much food you'll need. If you buy too much, it will go to waste. If you don't buy enough, not everyone will get fed.

Isn't it better to buy too much, even if you do end up spending more money than strictly necessary, rather than having people at your dinner party hungry? It would be way assholic to have people sitting around hungry just because you were afraid of spending a few too many dollars. And if you do buy too much, it can still do some good - you can give some to your guests to take home or bring it into the office or give some to your friendly neighbourhood panhandlers if they're after food rather than money.

Things They Should Invent: pre-sliced frozen pizza

Frozen pizza isn't as good as fresh real pizza, but it certainly does the job and is significantly cheaper than having a pizza delivered and easier than going out. If you cook it in the oven and maybe sprinkle it with a bit of extra shredded cheese so it goes all melty and gooey, it totally satisfies the pizza craving.

The problem is that a whole frozen pizza is way too much for just one person (and even for two if you're watching your weight) and reheated pizza isn't nearly as good (and creates pressure for you to eat pizza again the next few days even if you just had the craving the one day, which, again, is problematic if you're watching your weight).

The solution: slice the frozen pizza into standard slices, maybe make them kind of perforated so the pizza is still a cohesive whole but parts of it can be broken off (I've seen this before with a sort of round frozen garlic bread intended to be broken into individual finger-sized slices). Then you can take, say, two slices of pizza and heat them up separately, leaving the rest in the freezer for later. You're still full of pizza, but there's no pressure to overeat.

(Yes, those little mini-pizzas are available frozen, but their crust to toppings ratio is suboptimal enough that they don't satisfy the gooey hot cheese craving.)

Hate speech braindump (part 1 of ???)

I support hate speech laws, and I'm the only person I know who does. Unfortunately, I've never been able to articulate usefully why exactly I do support hate speech laws. However, the more I think and learn about it, and the more I'm exposed to the efforts of everyone I know to convince me otherwise, the more I become convinced that hate speech laws are a good idea. But I still can't articulate why. So I'm going to braindump around the concept and see what I can come up with. You can try to debate me if you want, but you're totally going to win right now because my thoughts aren't words yet.

1. There's a parenting technique whereby siblings are to be left to sort out their interpersonal problems among themselves I've blogged about my experience with it here. The problem for me is that what I wanted was to be left alone. It didn't hurt anyone, it didn't demand anything of anyone. But what my sister wanted was apparently to bother me, to stop me from having privacy, to make sure that I didn't get what I wanted. The same thing with my bullies. Leave me alone, either work civilly with me or ignore me in class, let me read my book. But what they wanted apparently was to bother me. What I wanted had no impact on anyone else; what they wanted was specifically to bother me. But this technique of letting kids sort out their own interpersonal problems treated them both as equally valid. It didn't give any credit to the fact that I wasn't hurting anyone, I wasn't bothering anyone. Because they did want to hurt and bother, they were good at it; because I didn't want to hurt and bother, I was bad at it. Therefore, they always won, and the net result was that someone was hurt and bothered. Which is, objectively, a negative outcome, whereas if I had been left alone the outcome would have been neutral or perhaps even positive.

My child-self didn't have these negative skills of hurt and bothering, but she did have the positive skills of amusing herself quietly without hurting or bothering. In a society, these are excellent, helpful, even productive skills to have, and if our child society had been mediated by adults, my child-self would have been left alone to be productive and our little corner of society would have been better for it. But when kids are left to their unmediated anarchy, these positive skills are worthless and the negative outcomes prevail, to the detriment of all but the lowest common denominator.

There needs to be…something, some way of mediating discourse to prevent the people with the best bullying skills from winning just because they have the best bullying skills. There needs to be some way of giving more credit or weight to positions that are productive as opposed to positions that are harmful. There needs to be some way of creating a public environment in which people can't bully their way to credibility. Without this, we may as well be back on the playground.

2. Go read Death or Cake and them come back here (this is an page and the formatting is messed, so you have to scroll down about halfway before the content starts). In this particular article they're talking about US political parties, but let's take it as broader interpretation: the contingent calling for Cake is being opposed by a contingent calling for Death. This reminded me of something I wrote during the last municipal strike. It uses up a lot of time and energy and bandwidth and column space and airtime to have to constantly counter shouts of "Death! Death!" It's draining, and it's preventing us from being productive. Maybe Cake isn't the optimal solution, but all the energy we're putting into countering calls for Death is preventing us from being able to to build a better cake, or maybe a pie instead.

We need…something, some way of taking Death off the table, so we can examine Cake objectively. How do we make it work for vegans and diabetics? I have a great recipe for gluten-free cookies! What if there was a nice salad? We can't do this when we're frantically trying to negotiate down to a maiming.

3. A while back, I read this article by a US columnist on Canadian hate speech laws, and I got the impression that he isn't seeing something that's apparent to me. I'm still not able to fully articulate my reaction (although I can point to the exact part of my brain where it occurs), but I think at least part of it is that the concept of hate speech is far more closely circumscribed than this columnist - or, I think, people who are opposed to hate speech in general - realize. You can't just point at someone saying something you don't like and scream "Hate speech!" and get them in trouble. And any idea with some actual non-hate substance to it can totally be expressed in a way that doesn't constitute hate speech.

I don't have on hand any real examples of hate speech with substance beneath, so I'll try to explain this using the Death or Cake example. Suppose that, rather than simply shouting "Death! Death!", the Death contingent was saying "You know, we have a bit of an overpopulation problem here…" We could work with that. We could start talking about improving access to family planning or introducing voluntary euthanasia options. It would not only save a whole lot of time and energy and yelling, but also keep anyone from being maimed in the name of "reasonable" compromise.

That is part (not all) of the nuance of what constitutes hate speech. "Death! Death! Death to Those People!" is hate speech. "We have an overpopulation problem. " is not. That's part of why the more I think about it, the more I support the existence of hate speech laws. It's a little step in the general direction of giving a bit more weight to productive positions. It's a little step towards taking Death off the table so we can focus on the real issue of controlling overpopulation while keeping the existing population from starving. It stops people from being able to go around doing harm just because they're bigger and louder like the bullies. And maybe if my bullies had been forced to say what it was they wanted from me, why exactly they wouldn't just leave me alone and what exactly they hoped to accomplish, maybe we could have had a situation where everyone was happier and no one was bothered.

4. When I say that any idea with non-hate substance can be expressed in a way that doesn't constitute hate speech, some of you are probably thinking "But not everyone is as good with words as you are! How can you say - and this in a blog post full of 'I can't quite articulate' - that people should get in trouble just because they can't express the precise connotation they need?" But that's how the rest of the world works. If I want to compliment a subordinate on her outfit, it's incumbent upon me to do so in a way that cannot be interpreted as sexual harassment. If I joke to the woman waiting in front of me in line that we should shoplift our purchases and then it turns out she's a police officer, it's incumbent upon me to do so in a way that makes it clear I'm not actually planning to shoplift. If I want to tease you about something, it's incumbent upon me to do so in a way that isn't cruel. So why should the people making the most hateful statements in our collective discourse get a bye?

5. Hate speech laws are to free speech as libel/slander laws are to freedom of the press.

6. As I've written about before somewhere, I do well in a society, but wouldn't do well in anarchy or a survivalist situation. I've found something I'm good at, and someone pays me money to do that, and then I can trade that money for things I need. In exchange for contributing what I can and keeping out of everyone else's way the rest of the time, I have enough food and shelter that keeps the bugs away and time and space to learn and think and grow. And a lot of the reason why this works is because of laws. Because we have laws, my employer pays me what's due to me, my landlord doesn't kick me out or raise my rent every month, the grocery store sells me food at the posted price and the food isn't poisonous, etc. This allows people like me who aren't good at fighting for their very survival to participate and even thrive, and it also allows our society as a whole to ascend Maslow's pyramid. I think hate speech laws do the same thing for discourse. It takes death off the table so we can work on building a better cake while also solving the overpopulation problem, all without anyone getting maimed along the way.

That's all the words I have at the moment, and it feels like somewhere around 20-30% of what's in my brain. More later.

How to introduce resistance into Wii Fit exercises

Wii Fit suggests that for certain strength-training exercises, you might want to introduce resistance once you've gotten used to the exercise.

Problem: it's hard to hold a weight/waterbottle/whatever in your hand while you're holding the Wii controller in your hand, and it won't count your reps if you don't have the controller in your hand. And holding both the controller and the weight in the same hand makes it difficult to maintain your grip on the weight, which is a wee bit unsafe.

Solution: use an elastic to strap the controller to the weight. Hold the weight and do the reps normally. This way the Wii controller will still count the reps, but you don't have to wrap your hand around a controller AND a weight.

Things my parents did right

In some past blog posts, and possibly some future ones that I have festering, I've written about things my parents did wrong. I write about these not for the express purpose of dissing my parents, but rather a) because they're the best examples that I have readily available, or b) because it explains something about the way I think or act. I write best using examples that are very immediate to me, and this is what I've got.

But for the moment, I thought I'd counterbalance this by sharing some of the things my parents did right.

- They taught me to read and count and do arithmetic at a very early age. I was started reading at 2 and could count to 100 at 3.

- Even though there was no precedent in either of their families for people having their own rooms, they made sure each of us could have our own room.

- They took me to the library whenever I wanted and let me check out any books I wanted in whatever quantities the library would permit.

- They let me experiment with the computer as soon as I could reach the keyboard. I was trying to write programs from a book at the age of 5 or play my father's computer games at 8, and they just...let me.

- When I had computer problems, my father would walk me through troubleshooting rather than fixing it himself, so it quickly became second nature.

- They let me cook experimentally whenever I wanted, and my mother did enough of the cleanup that I wouldn't be discouraged from trying to learn to cook by the cleanup burden.

- I was allowed to go for bike rides on my own at the age of 10. I wasn't brave enough to wander far, but it gave me a bit of a sense of independence and some time alone to think.

- They often (although not as often as they should have) simply called my bluff when I wanted to try something ridiculous. I wanted to eat an apple when I was a baby without any teeth, so my mother handed me an apple to see what would happen. When my 6-year-old self decided she wanted to learn calculus (because that's what my mother taught), I was given an introductory calculus textbook.

- They gave us comprehensive books dealing with puberty, including a full range of sex ed information. Although our family reads from the library, they bought these books in a bookstore and gave us each our own copies to keep in our respective rooms, so we could look at them privately without anyone knowing and get factual information without having to worry about awkwardness or embarrassment. This caused me to develop my own standards for intimacy and protection without the influence of anyone else's opinion - standards that still serve me well to this day.

- They did a pretty decent job of butting out of my educational decisions as I progressed through high school and into university and allowing me to manage it as an adult.

- As I approach 30, I find they're finally respecting my adulthood. My finances are good, so they don't comment on the price of my shoes. If they discovered I wasn't sleeping alone, they'd (superfically, at least) treat it like none of their business. If I say I need a sleep-in or an hour on the internet or a glass of wine, they take me at my word rather than trying to arbitrarily ration or convince or coerce me otherwise.

Good morning!

Here's what I'm doing today and why.

There's going to be a bit of a delay getting started, because I decided this year's blogathon should also include writing emails to my elected representatives (I still haven't done the ones I should have gotten out in the wake of the municipal election!) so I'm hoping to knock those off first. But if everything goes smoothly, there should be lots more coming throughout the day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Things They Should Invent: prominently indicate on monuments the year they were built

Disclaimer for this post: I saw something, I had an emotional reaction to it, and that ultimately led to an invention that I'm blogging. I don't have enough knowledge to know if my emotional reaction was founded or not and haven't done the research, but my point for this post is to explain the reasoning for the invention.

Walking down University Avenue, I noticed that the great big war memorial thing has old-fashioned colonial names for places in Africa on it. I thought it was a generic cenotaph - never really gave this much critical thought - but it turns out it's a Boer War memorial.

That makes me vaguely uncomfortable. From what little I remember from history class, my impression of the Boer War is that it was hella colonialist, with a goal of claiming or keeping parts of Africa for Britain. I'm not really comfortable with the idea of a massive epic monument to warmongering in the name of colonialism and the glory of the empire displayed so prominently in my city, especially since my Toronto welcomes newcomers from all over the world, including the parts of Africa memorialized here by being carved in stone under their colonial names.

But, at the same time, it wouldn't do at all to take the monument down or edit it. It is a memorial to actual specific dead people who still have living descendants. It's also a well-executed piece of public art, and a historical artifact from the Victorian period. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for letting a monument stay where it is.

I understand why this heroic colonialist sentiment was expressed at the turn of the 20th century, and I'd have no qualms about the monument if it was clear "This is what people thought in the early 1900s." It's actually important to know what and how they thought of colonial wars back then. But my concern is that it seems, to my eye at least, to be saying that we still think the sentiment is unwaveringly relevant and appropriate. If only there was some way to put an asterisk on monuments saying "The ideas expressed here are those of their era and do not necessarily reflect the society of today."

So here's the solution: Every time they put up a monument, they include a readily visible cornerstone or plaque clearly indicating the year when it was commissioned or erected. It would work like the cornerstone on a building. You know how if you go past an old building you sometimes think "Hey, an interestingly old building!" and look for a cornerstone to see how old it is, but if you live or work in the old building it's just your home or your office and its age isn't especially relevant? The monument would work the same way. If it's still relevant and pertinent to observers and therefore fulfilling its original intended function, no one will pay any particular attention to the cornerstone. But if time passes and the monument becomes less relevant, the cornerstone will mark it as from the past, and anyone wondering "WTF, Rhodesia?" will see that it's over 100 years old and interpret it as a historical document.

Monday, November 08, 2010

How long a tube of Touche Eclat lasts

When used 5 or 6 times a week to cover undereye circles and the occasional zit, a tube of Touche Eclat lasts six months.

Just in case anyone was googling for that :)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Analogy for different commitment preferences

There was recently a wee kerfuffle in the blogosphere when Stephen Fry said that women like sex less than men, because women don't go around cruising for random anonymous sex.

I didn't think this was worth blogging about in and of itself, but this morning in the shower it gave me an analogy.

Think of different commitment styles as different sex acts, which they kind of are on the emotional level. There's all kinds of sex acts out there. You probably have your favourites, and then some others that are enjoyable enough but not absolutely geil, and then others that you don't particularly mind but don't especially mourn their absence, and then some others where frankly you'd rather go to bed alone with a good book.

Commitment preferences work the same way. Some people like it better with only one partner, some people like it better with many. Some people think having a personal relationship on top of the sexual relationship complicates things, some people think nothing could be sexier.

So to say that someone likes sex less because they have no interest in random anonymous sex is like saying someone likes sex less because they have no interest in, say, figging. (Don't google it while at work).

Friday, November 05, 2010

Building a better It Gets Better

I've been reading some of the criticisms of the It Gets Better project, and I have some thoughts, not all of which are solutions.

It's biased! It's anti-rural, anti-religious, and assumes higher education is right for everyone.

An effective It Gets Better has to tell the speaker's own truth. We each have to describe our own experiences, with our target audience being our younger selves. We simply aren't qualified to tell people whose needs or truths are different from our own how to make it better - we would descend into meaningless platitudes by attempting to do so, and troubled kids have already heard more than their fair share or meaningless platitudes.

My truth, as I have experienced it, is that leaving the church makes it get better, living in the city makes it get better, going to university is the easiest path to that.

My younger self would have needed to hear this message. It never would have occurred to her that the city could be better. She thought the city would be full of Big Mean City People, and if people were this mean to her in a Nice Friendly Small Town, surely they'd be even meaner in a Great Big Mean City. She had constantly been told that university is so much harder than high school and that your teen years are The Best Years Of Your Life and had never once been exposed to the idea that it might get easier. While it's obvious and practically cliche to us as adults, especially to the wired, savvy, meme-perpetuating demographic that is readily influenced by Savage Love, it was completely foreign to my younger self and this message would have been new and helpful to her.

If the It Gets Better project lacks a diversity of experiences, the solution is not for those of us for whom the urban atheist university route was helpful to STFU. The solution is for other people whose It Gets Better took a different path to speak the fuck up and tell their younger selves what worked for them. If it can be made to get better while staying the small town where you grew up, or while being religious, or without going to university, that's fantastic! But I personally don't know how to make that happen - I've only had the one set of life experience - so the people who do know other paths to make it get better need to chime in.

There's also the fact that that the original intention of It Gets Better is to prevent suicide. I haven't taken this stance myself because I believe in people's right to commit suicide if they want to, but if that truly is our goal then maybe we should be focusing on what will give kids a glimpse of the better rather than on perfect long-term planning. Just getting them into another environment where they aren't treated with contempt will help. For example, under normal circumstances you might not advise a kid to take on debt to go to university in a large expensive city when they aren't sure what they want to study or if university is even right for them. However, if that kid is bullied and suicidal, sending them on full OSAP to whatever Toronto post-secondary institution they can get into with permission to transfer or change their minds later guilt-free may well save their lives. Even if their course of study isn't right for them, they get to spend some time in a less judgemental environment that's away from prying eyes and conducive to experimenting and finding oneself. If this isn't the most optimal route, they can at least have a reprieve from all the bullying and judgement while they figure out what is. If you know another route that doesn't involve such a debt load, put it out there! In the meantime, we are sharing what we know.

But it doesn't get better for everyone!

If it hasn't gotten better for you, I am truly sorry. This is very much a problem and it very much needs to be solved, we just need a space outside of the It Gets Better project in which to do it. The people for whom it hasn't gotten better need to work on articulating why it hasn't gotten better for them, and then the It Gets Better community as a whole needs to work on figuring out what we can do to make it get better for everyone. This is important. Someone with influence needs to set it up. Because we do actually want it to get better for everyone.

However, within the original mandate of helping bullied kids, those of us for whom it has gotten better (my younger self never thought she'd be in a position to utter something so privilegy!) still do need to share the how and why, because it will be helpful to at least some troubled kids. We aren't trying to neener and we aren't trying to marginalize you, we're just trying to help the people whom our truth can help right this minute. We'd also very much like to help make it better for you too, and for everyone. Let's work together to figure out how.

Kids shouldn't have to wait for years and years for it to get better. We should make it better for them now!

I totally agree! I'd love to make it better for them now! No one should have to suffer what my younger self did! The problem is, I don't know how to make it better for kids right now. I haven't the slightest clue. If you can tell me, I'll do it. If there's brainstorming going on somewhere, I'd be happy to dive right in if I can be of help.

Blogging and tweeting my truths about It Gets Better for the benefit of kids who can identify with my younger self are things I can do right now, so I am doing them. I don't know of anything I can do right now to make it better for today's kids right now, so I haven't done anything. I would love to do something or to throw money at something to make it better instantly and if you tell me I'll do it. But I don't have that information at the moment, so I'm doing what little I can.

This reminds me of a problem I've noticed not just in It Gets Better, but in life in general. It Gets Better is telling kids that if they're bullied, they should tell an adult. Do adults know what to do if a kid comes to them saying they're being bullied? I don't know what to do and I get to be an adult. My parents didn't know what to do. Do teachers know what to do? Mine couldn't make the bullying stop, although there's certainly room for teachers' skills to have improved in the last 15-20 years. This happens in other areas of life too. When you're a kid, they tell you that if you find a needle you should tell an adult. As an adult, I don't know what to do if you find a needle. Any awareness campaign that tells kids to tell an adult needs a partner campaign that tells the adults what to do!

Thursday, November 04, 2010


My father emailed me a piece of language-related humour that I first heard half a lifetime ago, when I first started studying the language in question. My thought upon receiving this: "Does he seriously think I've never heard that before?"

That brought back a memory. I was a preschooler and had just been introduced to the concept of jokes. Like for the first time ever. Like at the "Why did the chicken cross the road?" level. So I'm gleefully telling basic, childish jokes to my parents (in my capacity as a child who had been introduced to the concept of joke-telling that very day), and my father says to me "Do you seriously think I've never heard these before?"

Of course, I didn't reply to my father's email that way. I just disregarded it for a time, and then replied with a bit of internet humour that vaguely intersects with his interests once I thought of one.

Then I realized that my father was my age when I was born, which means he was older than I am now on that day when I first learned to tell jokes.

Which means that he should damn well have developed the people skills not to reply to a joke that way!!!

It's not the fact that he shot down my childish jokes that's making me resentful, it's the fact that this (or, more accurately, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of this in my home life) led me to believe that's the normal way to respond to things. Which severely hindered my social life, as you might imagine!

I was into my 20s before I began developing the skills to approach social interactions with anything other than "Neener, neener, look how much smarter than you I am!" As you've probably noticed, those skills are still far from perfect. And they haven't become a habit yet. I have to make a deliberate, mindful effort to employ them, all the while fighting to supress the lifetime of instinct and habit that are still telling me to go for the neener neener.

Which is exactly what ended up happening when I made an ass of myself in front of Eddie. Giddy with endorphins and fangirl joy, I walked up to the greatest inspiration of my life, looked him in the eye, and neenered.

What should have been a joyful memory I can lie back and wallow in is now a humiliating memory that rears up and slaps me in the face at random times. My first (only?) chance to speak with my true, positive role model was ruined because of the influence of this negative role model I was unwillingly saddled with in my formative years.

And he doesn't even get the slap in the face of "Do you seriously think I've never heard that before?" because I want to be a better person than that.

Although I don't have it in me to be enough of a better person not to write this blog post.

And the tragic irony of it all is if I didn't have this resentment about being mis-socialized simmering in my brain, with this spectre of humiliation at making an ass of myself lurking around ready to rear up and slap me when I least expect it, I'd probably have the mental energy to write something that would make everyone - and Eddie too - notice and appreciate how smart I am.