Sunday, January 31, 2010

A depressing post to start off February

The year is some point in the 90s. The place is my parents' house. The doorbell rings. For some reason, I answer. An impossibly tiny little boy is standing there, his mother a safe distance behind him. He looks up at me with terrified eyes and asks (in a voice that's almost incomprehensible for it's frightened shyness and childish lisp) if he can go into our backyard to retrieve his ball.

Remember how scared I was when I had to ring next door's doorbell and ask them the same thing, I tell him of course he can, and next time he doesn't have to ask, he can just go get it. I then inform my parents that Mr. & Mrs. Next Door's grandkids hereby officially have permission to retrieve a ball from our backyard whenever necessary. Since homeowners aren't actually the big scary monsters that small children with lost balls imagine they are, my parents shrug and continue about their lives.

I just learned that a couple of years ago, that boy, who had since grown into a teenager, died of a sudden and unexpected medical complication. The information I have suggests he was in no pain and just quietly passed in his sleep, but his life was cut short far too soon.

I didn't know him at all. My only interaction with him was that one time he rang our doorbell. But I am strongly, inexplicably, disproportionately grieving for that little boy who was scared to ask a stranger if he could get his ball back.

Edited to add: I've been trying to figure out why this saddens me so much, and I think I've worked it out. I identified with the little boy who rang our doorbell. The world was full of big, scary grownups who had unpredictable and unspoken rules. You were completely at their mercy and sometimes they might get mad at you even when your actions were completely innocent (like if your ball went in their yard). Even if they didn't actually get mad at you that often, it felt like they could at any point. The little boy did grow into a handsome and accomplished young man, but he died at an age when, for me at least, the grownup world was still big and scary and unpredictable. I'm mourning for the fact that that impossibly tiny little boy may never have gotten to enjoy the feeling of safety and security that comes with adulthood.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The one pedestrian law that needs changing

Via Traffic Services:

The only time you are allowed to enter onto the road way at a signalized intersection is when the pedestrian control facing the direction you want to travel indicates a walk symbol. If there is no pedestrian control, you can only enter the roadway when the green light is on for the direction you want to travel.

If the don't walk symbol is illuminated either flashing or solid, you can not enter onto the roadway. You must remain off the roadway until a walk symbol is on.

If there is a countdown timer with the don't walk symbol you can not enter the roadway.

The flashing don't walk symbol, solid don't walk symbol and countdown timer are only indications that the lights are about to change and if you are on the roadway, you better get off before cross traffic commences.

We need to get this rule changed. It's illogical, unreasonable, and vaguely insulting. The countdown timer tells us exactly how much time we have. We can therefore use it to make certain that we have enough time to get across the street. For example, I cross Yonge St. several times a day, and I know with absolute certainty that it takes me 11 seconds to do so at my normal walking pace. Therefore, if there are 15 seconds left on the timer, I have time to get across safely. (You might be thinking "But that's only 4 seconds leeway!" Yes, but it's 36% more time than I need, plus I still do have the option of speeding up from my normal walking pace.) I've seen a 30-second timer on a 2-lane street. What's the point of that? What is gained by keeping people on the sidewalk for a whole nother light cycle when the timer is clearly showing they have far more time than they'll ever need?

Before the timers were installed, I'd occasionally take my chances with the flashing hand, and sometimes I'd end up still in the crosswalk when the light turned red. When the timers were installed, I started timing myself and soon gained a good sense of how many seconds it takes me to cross any given street. Because of that, I enter the crosswalk when the hand is flashing far more often, but I have never - not once - found myself caught in the crosswalk on red on a timed light. The timers give me the information I need, so I'm not gambling.

Ticketing someone for entering a timed crosswalk where they clearly have enough time just because the hand is flashing is akin to ticketing someone for doing 80 in an 80 zone just because there's a 50 zone further up the road. I would very much like to know exactly which piece of legislation this falls under so I know which elected representative I should write to to get it changed. Until we can make that happen, I hope the Toronto Police will use their professional judgement and discretion and only issue tickets on flashing timed crosswalks when the pedestrian hasn't made good use of the timer and has ended up still in the crosswalk on red.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Multi-purpose analogy

This is an analogy for a) people who insist that they should be able to use offensive language (as opposed to "politically correct" language) without people taking offence, and b) people who insist that they shouldn't have to edit their translations to eliminate double entendres that aren't present in the source text. (And, as usual, I'm not referring to any of my co-workers here.)

It's like meeting a guy name Richard and insisting, despite his protests, on calling him Dick.

My bad idea radar

Several times in my life, I've heard an idea that was really verging on too complicated or too outside my expertise for me to understand, but my brain and my guts and my instinct just rebel against it, certain that it must be wrong. "Wait," I cry out, "How does that possibly make any sense???" The problem is these things are truly beyond anything I'm remotely qualified to have a knowledgeable opinion on. Often, I know so little about them that I can't even articulate why they seem like bad ideas to me. If this world is at all logical, the people who came up with the idea should very much know exactly what they're doing, and it just isn't making sense to me because I'm not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to understand it. And, in fact, if I mention to a subject-matter expert that it doesn't make any sense to me, they get all condescending and treat me like I'm an ignorant fool.

Here are some ideas that have triggered this reaction:

- The kinds of investments that caused the current economic crisis
- The idea of buying a house as an investment with the assumption that housing prices have nowhere to go but up
- The dot-com boom
- NATO's military presence in Afghanistan
- The US military presence in Iraq
- World War I*

I know very little about economics or real estate or investing or international relations or warfare. By all rights, anyone who actually does these things should know exponentially more than me. But in all these cases, years after my instincts rebelled against the idea and I spent days' worth of showers trying to wrap my brain around them to little success, it became apparent and/or generally socially accepted that they were bad ideas.

Now you're asking "But surely sometimes something seems like a bad idea to you and ends up being a good idea?"

I can think of one such case:

When I first moved into my current apartment building, I asked if the whole building switches over between heating and air conditioning, or if we can switch our suites individually. It often gets hot outside during the period where the landlord is still legally obligated to provide heat. So if it gets hot in April, can I turn on my A/C? "No, you can't turn on your A/C in the winter," the rental agent said, "But you can turn on the heat in the summer!" Yeah, like that really helps!

Turns out it does help. The law requires the landlord to maintain a temperature above a certain threshold from September to June, which functionally means that they have to have heating available. But because we can have the heat on in our individual suites even when the building as a whole is switched to air conditioning, that means the landlord is free to switch the building to A/C whenever the weather gets hot, regardless of date, because their legal requirement to provide heating is still fulfilled.

So that is the only case I can think of where my bad idea radar has led me astray. Every other time it worked. So now I tend to trust it.

So why am I blogging this? So that next time something triggers my bad idea radar, I can just link to this explanation without having to go off on a whole tangent about why I trust this gut instinct even though it's illogical.

*You're thinking "Um, WWI kind of already finished well before you got here." In this case, this reaction was triggered when I learned in history class that the war was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. I could not imagine at all how that would trigger a war, but my history class just proceeded merrily along as though that made perfect sense. It took me several years and a lot of hard-core research to determine that it did in fact make as little sense as I thought.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Question for non-Canadians

I'm asking non-Canadians because you're more likely to be able to give an objective opinion without any explicit or subconscious partisan bias, but Canadians can answer too if you want. Anonymous comments are welcome, but please indicate if you're Canadian or not.

Faced with the Haitian catastrophe, [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper directed traffic in an impressive, speedy and efficient fashion. He got right on the file, sent the appropriate ministers and departments into overdrive, and pushed international buttons – as in Canada playing host yesterday to a hastily assembled international conference on Haiti. Those who have been critical of a certain lassitude in Canadian foreign policy should take note and give credit.

Mr. Harper announced that the government, over and beyond its own aid commitment, would match Canadians' contributions up to $50-million. When Canadians donated more than the government anticipated, he scrapped the matching limit. The result, thus far, is that Canada has made the largest per capita commitment to Haiti. And the military was dispatched there, despite repeated claims that it had already been “overstretched” by Afghanistan.

On orphans and refugees, his government walked the appropriate line between additional humanitarian efforts (as in expediting the arrival of orphans) while not creating a dangerous precedent by throwing open the country to every Haitian who might want to emigrate.

So when a grim humanitarian crisis arose, in Canada's part of the world, with a sizable Haitian diaspora already here, Mr. Harper produced a pitch-perfect response backed by swift and serious action.

My question: objectively speaking, is that actually an impressive achievement for a leader of a country? Because I've been interpreting it as just doing the job properly without messing anything up. I assumed such a response was well within the reach of anyone with the leadership skills to be the leader of a country, and the resources of a whole country at their disposal.

It's like how if a rocket scientist successfully launches a rocket, it isn't a particularly impressive achievement. Most of us can't do that, but basically they're just doing their job right without messing up.

Is effective international crisis response similarly routine, or is it more impressive than I think it is? If the leader of your country responded similarly (and they may well have in fact done just that - I haven't been tallying crisis response by nation) would you be impressed, or would you just consider it basic competence?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why your translator is asking you all those questions

The second item in the Reverso English-French dictionary entry for "outsider":

(without links to company) personne f recrutée à l'extérieur
Fiorina is the first true outsider to run the company.
Fiorina est la première PDG de la société recrutée à l'extérieur.

A literal translation of the French sentence is "Fiorina is the first CEO of the company recruited from outside." Not exactly the same as the English sentence, but a smooth, natural, and easily-understandable way to express the concept, which is what you're looking for when using that dictionary.

But you'll also notice that the translator who wrote the French sentence knows more information than is given in the English sentence. They know that Fiorina's title is CEO. They know that the reason she is considered an outsider is specifically that she was recruited from outside the company (as opposed to, say, not being a member of the Stonecutters). Oh, and they also know that she's a woman, as evidenced by "la première PDG" (if it were a man, it would say "le premier PDG").

As you can see by the Reverso entry, the English word outsider doesn't have one single equivalent concept in French. None of the other words given would communicate the right idea. (étrangère would imply that she's from another country; tiers implies third-party, which makes no sense because as CEO she's no longer a third party; and le outsider is specific to an athletic context, implying that she's a poor shot to win.) So to accurately communicate the message of the sentence, the translator needs information about the overall context.

So this is why your translator might call you up one day and ask about the genders of various people mentioned in the text, or how one thing mentioned relates to another, or a bit of background information on the situation. They want to be able to construct a text that will effortlessly tell the target-language audience exactly what the source text tells the source-language audience. If you don't answer their questions they'll have to guess, and the translation might not end up meaning what you want it to mean.

I redesigned the economy in the shower this morning

We start with a cradle-to-grave guaranteed income, let's say $20,000 a year (indexed). However, if you are employed, then the employer gets some or all of that money. A certain level of employment is defined as "fully employed". Let's say "fully employed" is a non-temporary job paying least $40,000 a year (indexed) with full benefits a defined-benefit pension. If you are fully employed the employer gets your $20,000, but you don't care, because you make way more than that and have benefits and a pension. If you are less than fully employed (lower pay, or no benefits, or temp work), you get part of the $20,000 and the employer gets part of the $20,000. The ratios would be such that it's never more profitable for the employer to provide less than full employment, and the worker never loses money by working more. I'm willing to consider the possibility of designating a temp or non-benefit job as "fully employed" at a higher salary threshold, but it has to be high enough that it doesn't discourage employers from providing benefits or secure employment.

Children also get $20,000. However, some of the money goes to their parents/guardians, and some if it goes into an account to save for their education. The kids get to keep a relatively small amount (perhaps increasing each year) that basically functions as an allowance. When they turn 18, they start getting the full $20,000 a year. (Thus emancipating them from their parents). If they go to postsecondary right out of high school, the money in their education account is used to pay tuition and any other school-related fees. Three ideas for if they don't go to postsecondary, in ascending order of paternalism:

1. They get access to the money in the education account outright.
2. Every year, they get access to an amount of money equal to the average tuition fee that year. (Of course, if they do choose to go back to school, they get their full tuition paid even if it's higher than the average.)
3. The education account is rolled over into a retirement savings account that will pay out an annuity in retirement.

So overall, citizens are more financially secure, consumer confidence increases, government social spending is at a steady and predictable level regardless of economic conditions, employers are more motivated to create and maintain Good Jobs, the aspects of the childcare problem that can be addressed by throwing money at the problem are addressed, education is affordable, and young adults are able to emancipate themselves from their parents and launch whenever they feel like it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The problems with the Test The Nation IQ test

1. The time limit is per question. In real IQ tests, the time limit is for the section or for the whole test, so you can speed through the easy questions and take your time on the harder ones.

2. Because you're taking the test at home on your computer, you can talk out loud, which is completely unlike real IQ tests. I have an auditory memory, so this is enormously helpful to me. As a result I got 49/50 questions right, which places my IQ at 144 (on a scale that goes up to 150).

Oddly, the question I got wrong was in the Memory: Images section, in which I was certain I'd gotten everything right. I look forward to the answers being posted so I can see which one I got wrong.

Of course, the main reason I did so well in the memory sections (other than being able to talk through the scenes out loud) is that I've taken enough of these tests that I know exactly what kinds of questions they might ask. Really all this proves is I have good test-taking skills.

(The test is here.)

Building a better protest rally

The problem with protest rallies is ultimately they are boring and not particularly productive. You're standing there in a crowd while the people on stage tell you stuff you already know, then you walk around a bit and make noise so people notice you. Not especially fun or interesting, and doesn't achieve anything other than visibility.

I do get that visibility is the point. A big loud crowd of people gets attention and makes it clear that a lot of people feel strongly about the cause. Critics are likely to dismiss petitions, email campaigns, facebook groups etc. far more readily than an actual crowd of people. But instead of just showing up and making noise and shouting at each other stuff we already know, we should do something, make something, create something, help something. Surely we can make better use of thousands of intelligent, engaged Canadians than just being extras in a crowd scene!

So here's what our Something has to be:

1. Tangible: The value of the crowd is its tangibility, and we need to retain that. If everyone showed up in Yonge Dundas Square and left their mittens behind, that would show how many people were there (problem: then we'd all have to buy new mittens).

2. Visually impressive: Close to 10,000 people is a lot of people. It's "Holy shit, look at all those people." The Something has to be similarly visually impressive. For example, if everyone put their business card in a jar (problems: not everyone has a business card, and not everyone is free to take political action in their employer's name) that wouldn't be visually impressive - 10,000 business cards isn't really a lot. If everyone left their mittens behind or brought a can of food, that wouldn't be particularly visually impressive either - it would look like a lot, but it wouldn't be "Holy shit!" But if everyone brought a live squirrel and released it in Yonge Dundas Square (obvious problems: how do you catch and transport a live squirrel? Plus it's cruel to squirrels), the reaction would be "Holy shit, look at all those squirrels!"

3. Practical and feasible: So suppose everyone showed up at Yonge Dundas Square, stood there and knitted a scarf, and then we left all the scarves on the ground, carpeting the entire square. Tangible and visually impressive, but the problem is not everyone knows how to knit. If everyone got in a car and drove around really slowly with a sign on their roof tying up traffic, that would be tangible and visually impressive, but would severely reduce the numbers because you can't assume everyone has a car. But if we all showed up and drew chalk outlines of our bodies (problems: symbolically inappropriate for this protest, dependent on the media being willing to go to the trouble of photographing it from above) that would be extremely feasible. Leaving your mittens behind might be impractical enough to deter people, but bringing a can of food is generally doable (the problem being that 10,000 cans of food aren't that visually impressive.)

4. Productive and helpful: The ideal would be for the protest to have some lasting positive impact, beyond political awareness. That would give us more of the moral high ground and be good PR vis-a-vis people who are wary of protests in general. The squirrels and the slow-driving cars would just annoy people (and squirrels) so we wouldn't want to do that. The scarves, the mittens, and the cans of food could all be donated somewhere where they'd do some good. It would be even better if the Something could be permanent, like building Habitat for Humanity houses (problem: even if a tract of Habitat for Humanity houses springs up overnight, it isn't obvious to the non-expert how many people were involved).

While writing this I came up with the idea of everyone coming to the protest site and building a small (like 1 or 2 feet high) inukshuk. But that's not super-feasible and not particularly productive. (Where would we get rocks from? How would we make it visually apparent what the inukshuks represent? Plus critics would say that maybe just a few people showed up and built many inukshuks each, and it would annoy people if we cluttered up Yonge Dundas Square with inukshuks.) Plus I don't know whether 10,000 small inukshuks in Yonge Dundas Square would be visually impressive or not.

Then I had the idea of building inukshuks out of nonperishable food, and after the protest is over donating all the food to a food bank. Questions: is it architecturally feasible to build an inukshuk out of nonperishable food, and would the amount of food required be generally affordable? How much trouble/annoyance would it be? What would we do about critics' inevitable allegations that maybe it was just a small number of people building a large number of inukshuks? And would it be visually impressive?

Any other ideas?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When and how did entails stop existing?

Several Jane Austen novels are based on the concept of entails, where an estate could only be inherited by a male heir, and daughters were left with nothing (making it necessary for them to find husbands, thus triggering the entire plot of a Jane Austen novel). In at least some of the cases (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility) the fathers of the family couldn't do anything to change the entails. Even though they were the boss of the estate, their hands were completely tied by the legalities of the entail, and they had no way of seeing to it that their daughters were provided for.

So what I'm wondering is, how did it come about that entails no longer exist? If they're so wrapped up legalities that the people in charge of the estates did not have the power to change them, how did they get changed?

Being safe

I was reading some statements from a politician who is more right-wing than I'm comfortable with, and I found myself whimpering at the screen "But I just want to be safe!"

The policies being described would make people have to struggle to earn a living where now we merely have to work. They'd make aspects of life that are currently effortless somewhat difficult, and/or hinder work that is currently being done to make difficult aspects of life easier. Similar political opinions often want to weaken the safety net that will catch us if we fall, making it easier to end up in grinding poverty and harder to climb back out. That makes me feel less and less safe.

What makes me feel safe is if I can be a good girl, do what I'm supposed to, go to work and do my job well, pay my bills in full and on time, don't be a dick to people, don't do anything too stupid, and that's enough to keep life from getting worse. The policies I was reading about would result in life being worse even if people are good and do what they're supposed to. I can't feel safe in a world that works like that.

People who are the same flavour of right-wing as the politician whose statements I was reading tend to be opposed to taxes. It's not something I feel myself - taxes have always felt negligible to me, but then I don't make enough money to be in a very high tax bracket, so I do get that it might feel different if you're in a high tax bracket.

What I'm wondering: do taxes make them feel unsafe, the same way the policies I was reading about make me feel unsafe? Or is it something other than feeling safe?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Worst. Dear Abby Letter. Ever.

Last letter in today's column:

DEAR ABBY: I'm having a dispute with my husband. He thinks that you screw in a lightbulb clockwise. I disagree. I say counter-clockwise. Which of us is correct?

Um, why not grab the nearest lamp and check for yourself?

Life imitates Star Trek


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wherein a foreigner who knows nothing about privatized health insurance tries to fix the US health insurance system

What if US health insurance companies weren't taxed on their earnings, and were instead taxed on the value of the claims they decline? If they pay in full every claim submitted to them, they won't pay any taxes. If they pay none of the claims submitted to them, they have to pay taxes on the full amounts of all the claims submitted to them.

Other problems I've heard of are a) insurance premiums being too expensive, and b) patients being refused insurance coverage at all because they are or have been sick. So in addition to taxing the amounts of any claims that are refused, they should also tax the amounts of any insurance premiums above a certain percentage of the client's income, and there should be a penalty for every applicant they refuse to cover, equal to either the cost of their average client or the cost of their most expensive client (I can make arguments for both).

Now the obvious flaw here is that taxes are never 100%, so the insurance companies would still be saving money by doing whatever they want. It's possible that anti-tax sentiment would provide sufficient motivation, but you can't make policy on the assumption that people are that stupid. So the next step is to use any money collected through this coverage denial tax to create an insurance fund for people who can't get or afford coverage elsewhere. So basically the insurance companies are paying the insurance premiums of people they refuse to cover.

I think they either did or were talking about making a rule in the states where every citizen has to buy health insurance, so it would be perfectly logical to tweak legislation at this point to make that more feasible. And if the insurance companies don't want to pay any denied-claim tax and just want to revel in unbridled capitalism, all they have to do is provide their services to anyone who asks at a fair price.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Adult material?

Via Slap:

[Canada Post's new] policies, which came into effect just over a year ago, now mandate that all “sexually suggestive” admail—even commercial mail that is explicitly addressed to the recipient—be clearly labelled as adult material, thwarting all attempts at discretion. This includes all images “that are suggestive of sexual activity,” as well as text that “describes sexual acts in a way that is more than purely technical.”

Technically, as per the letter of the law, that would include romance novels. That would include fashion magazines if they contained some of the more provocative perfume ads. If "images" includes video, that would include DVD box sets of most (if not all) the Golden Globe nominees for Best Drama. None of which is porn. It is intended for adults, yes, but you can buy romance novels in a grocery store, and see images suggestive of sexual activity by channel-surfing after 10 pm.

What were they thinking when they wrote this definition?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Open Letter to the Toronto Star

Dear Toronto Star:

How come an article that gets a graphic content warning on your website appears on the front page, above the fold, with no content warning in your print edition? What is your reasoning here? What scenarios did you have in mind when imagining that online readers might require a content warning but print readers would not?


A reader who prefers to avoid graphic content at the breakfast table

Why does the military do disaster relief?

Mentioned frequently and matter-of-factly in the news is that the military is sending search-and-rescue and other disaster-relief teams to Haiti. Which is very much a good thing.

However, this is making me wonder how it came about that the military has disaster relief in its skill set in the first place. We accept it as a given, but if you think about it, it's rather odd for an organization originally intended for warfare to develop humanitarian expertise. Not questioning its value - I'd much rather have them doing disaster relief than making war - just wondering how it happened.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things They Should Invent: celebrate functional fashion design

If you've ever had the pleasure of owning a particularly well-designed piece of clothing, you'll know that they work with your body to make your shape look better than it is. Well-placed design features smooth out any lumpiness, make your torso look sleek and your breasts look high, and use your hips to create a general impression of sexy curves rather than pear-shaped endomorphism. I had the extreme good fortune to find two such dresses in the past year (name-dropping to give credit where credit is due: dresses by Calvin Klein and Adrianna Papell respectively, both found at Winners) and was very impressed by the thought that went into the designs. It was like engineering or architecture! I came away with a profound appreciation of the talent that goes into good fashion design.

However, haute couture doesn't really work this way. The outfits on a fashion show runway are pure artistic expression by the designer, and the models are specifically chosen for having figures and features that aren't going to interfere with the clothes.

Fashion magazines do sometimes do articles on dressing to enhance or conceal certain aspects of your figure, but they place the responsibility on the wearer to find clothes that work for them. It's presented as a way to improve the wearer's shopping skills, without lauding the designers for designing helpful clothes.

This does make sense from a practical perspective (the person reading the magazine is the wearer, who presumably does want clothes that work for them), but I think it's unhelpful overall. People often worry that the use of extremely skinny fashion models leads to body insecurity and eating disorders among the general population. I'm wondering if it isn't the skinny models per se, but rather the fashion hierarchy that celebrates haute couture where models are chosen not to interfere with the clothes as the pinnacle of design achievement, while actual well-designed clothes that work well on real people are seen as more downmarket. This leaves people feeling insecure because their body won't serve all the clothes, whereas in reality the clothes should serve the wearer. Good interface design makes it obvious where to click, rather than requiring users to RTFM. Good architecture or engineering works with how users are going to naturally use the structure, rather than requiring a change in user behaviour. Good fashion design - the work that is celebrated as the pinnacle of fashion design - should be similarly user-centric.

I'd love to see a piece in Vogue where big-name designers make clothes for real people. Not magazine "real people" - flawlessly attractive people whose hips happen to be slightly bigger than their bust, or size 12s being dubbed "plus-size models". I'm talking about people who are as conventionally attractive as Susan Boyle. Get top designers to design clothes specifically for these real people to wear in real life, and present it as a celebration of real design skill.

Alternatively (or in addition), there could be a TV show akin to Project Runway where the designers are given real-life design problems. The subjects could be real people, or they could be more extreme real-life issues (like that one house makeover show where they renovate houses for families with special-needs octuplets or whatever). Up-and-coming new designers could have challenges like making a functional and attractive wardrobe for someone with a colostomy bag, or creating flattering workout wear for a 60-year-old triathlete who has to train outdoors in the Canadian winter, or designing clothes that a transgender person could wear throughout their entire transition. This show would have to be done well (i.e. not stooping to presenting the subjects as a freakshow), but I think it would be enormously valuable both for the body image of the general public and for the design profession to present functional user-centric problem-solving as the pinnacle of exemplary fashion design.

Foolish pricing decision from Rogers

In October, I received an email from Rogers offering me a significantly better price on my existing home phone service. Being the procrastinative sort of person that I am, I didn't get around to switching to the new package until December. It was a good decision and I came away feeling like I won (which I never do when dealing with telecommunications.)

Yesterday, I got a letter from Rogers saying that the price of my phone package was increasing by $3. My first visceral reaction was "Dude, WTF????" I haven't even had a full billing period on my new phone package yet! I felt completely baited and switched!

And to make matters worse (for Rogers), in that same day's mail there was also an offer from Bell where the big bold number at the top of the page was now marginally lower than the new price with Rogers.

Of course, having been a consumer of telecommunications for several years, I had the sense to step back from my initial visceral feeling of being cheated to run some numbers and read some fine print. And it turned out that I'm still marginally saving money with Rogers and the fine print of Bell's offer pushes its price marginally higher than Rogers'.

But I have to wonder, what kind of a business decision was that on Rogers' part? If they had just made the home phone offer $3 higher in the first place, I would have come away feeling like I've won. Why even introduce this opportunity for customers to feel baited and switched?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A gap in my musical education

For reasons I cannot fathom, my parents' Beatles collection never included Abbey Road. So the first time I knowingly heard I Want You (She's So Heavy) was a couple of years ago in Across the Universe:

It only just occurred to me that the Beatles version probably isn't intended to sound militaristic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Professionally-administered personality tests

I read somewhere that you can get personality tests (Myers-Briggs etc.) professionally administered. Has anyone ever had that done? If so, does the professional administering it help you pick the most applicable answer? One problem I always have is that I'm always mentally screaming at the test "Well, both!" or "It depends on the context!" Abstract or concrete? As it happens, I like my tangibles abstract and my intangibles concrete. Are you more analytical or emotional? Well, either or both, depending on the context. I tend to get a gut feeling, analyze the fuck out of it, fret that maybe I'm missing some key point for a couple of days, and end up going with the gut feeling. But I don't consider a gut feeling out of which the fuck has not yet been analyzed to be valid. So where does that fall on a dual choice test?

It would be interesting to do these personality tests in a context where I can talk through these questions with someone. Is that what professionally-administered involves?

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Eddie Izzard reference in Ziggy...AGAIN!

This is the second time I've seen an Eddie Izzard reference (at 0:55) in Ziggy.

The first time was the one shown by Comics Curmudgeon here, and the relevant Eddie is here at 3:49.

And I don't even read Ziggy!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wherein I might have figured out how customer service works over a decade after I started working customer service

The salesman is very much a salesman. Intellectually, I know every trick he's doing. His face lights up with friendly recognition when I walk in, just like my face has lit up for every customer who interrupted the work that I absolutely had to get done by the end of shift. When he says "Don't you own another pair in this line?" he isn't actually thinking he remembers which shoes I've bought before, he just recognized me as a return customer by the way I phrased my request and was trying to elicit that very information from me. And yet I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

Normally I don't fall for these things. So why did I this time? Because I was feeling insecure. By objective standards, I'm not cool enough to shop in that store. By acting as though he recognized and remembered me, salesguy was validating my presence, making me feel like I'm totally allowed to be in there.

My first customer service training was when I was a fast food cashier, and it was presented as trying to make customers feel like we're their friends. I thought that was ridiculous and insulting to the customers. Like they're really going think that we're friends just because I call them by name after reading their name off their debit card? Like they're so lacking in friends they'll feel good when some random fast food cashier treats them like they're friends? But now I'm thinking it might be more validating. Yes, you personally are totally allowed and welcome to be buying food here. Seriously, come back again soon, you're exactly the kind of person we're here for. Since my days of working in fast food I've received a wide range of customer service from a wide range of places, and the good customer service was always characterized by validating me and making me feel like I'm allowed and welcome, whereas the bad customer service always made me feel like I wasn't actually supposed to be there.

But if customer service actually works this way, that would mean that everyone is as insecure as I am. If that is the case, how on earth does society function?

How on earth do people arrive at seeing heterosexuality as morally imperative in the first place?

The fact that I am congenitally monogamous often confuses people. I am not religious, I have no intention of raising children, I don't in any way see monogamy as morally imperative (assuming you're not leading anyone to believe you're being monogamous with them), so often people don't understand why I am monogamous.

An answer I've found helpful is to describe it as my sexual orientation. Monogamy and commitment are what I find sexy. Polyamory and/or casual sex are simply not sexy to me and there's point in my wasting my time with them, the same way that (if you are monosexual*) people who are not your target gender are simply not sexually attractive to you and there's just no point in engaging in sexual and/or romantic relationships with people who aren't your target gender.

Because monogamy is my sexual orientation, it would never occur to me to deem it a moral imperative. I don't even get to the point of thinking about it terms of broadly-applicable morality. It is simply what I find sexy, so I proceed accordingly.

So thinking about this, I really can't imagine how the people who consider heterosexuality morally imperative got to the point of thinking of it in terms of moral imperative. So you think people of the opposite sex are sexy. How do you get from there to thinking that everyone in the world should only ever have sex with people of the opposite sex? If you think redheads are sexy, would you at all ever possibly arrive at the point of thinking about it in terms of broadly applicable morality, and come up with a rule that everyone should only have sex with redheads?

*I know some people don't like the word monosexual, but I can't figure out how to construct the sentence without it. If you object to this word choice, feel free to rephrase the sentence for me in the comments.

Currently on my mind

- It sure is cold outside.
- How's my job security?
- Will that change I suggested improve productivity or just annoy the admin team?
- Prorogation: WTF?
- What's up with my rent increase?
- When are they going to correct the N2 exemption error in the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act?
- Should I buy a condo? If so, WTF do I do?
- Is a certain elderly person I know losing her mental faculties?
- What do I do about friends who I know are perfectly intelligent but aren't keeping themselves politically informed?
- How do I make my injured toenail grow back without becoming ingrown?
- Why has flakiness increased since my last scalp treatment?
- How many errands could I reasonably get done today?
- Should I buy a duvet?
- How should I go about updating my wardrobe?
- Is that a zit coming in in my ear?
- Why has the quality of my undereye makeup deteriorated recently, and what can I do about it?
- Is the blog entry I have in mind of sufficient interest?
- What would happen if Eve Dallas met Dexter Morgan?
- How do I get Eddie Izzard to bring his tour to Toronto?
- What does it mean when Zonealarm says "Protection up, UI is initializing", and why does that generate tons of temp files in my C:\windows\internet logs folder?
- Cheese would be yummy right about now.
- What kind of computer mouse should I get to fit my giant hands? Where's a good place to go shop for unconventional computer mice where you can look at them in person?
- How can we as workers reverse the socioeconomic trend towards contract hell and restore Good Jobs in all fields of work like my grandparents enjoyed in the 1950s?
- I wonder whatever did happen to Mariam Makhniashvili?
- Was that Minnie Driver I saw walking down the street?

This sort of thing is all floating in the background as I go about everyday life. I'm sure it's the same for you.

That's why I'm really surprised that some people say "People don't care about [political issue], they're too busy worrying about their jobs and families!"

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The argument for using the garbage chute for organic waste disposal

I previously blogged that when organic waste collection comes to highrise buildings, the buildings without tri-sorters should use their garbage chutes for organic waste, and have people bring recyclables and landfill waste to the garbage room or the dumpsters. However, this idea doesn't seem to have caught on. I keep reading about allegedly innovative and forward-thinking buildings trumpeting the fact that there's an organics collection bin in the garbage room or out back, as though this is at all pleasant or convenient or going to result in optimal resident behaviour.

So here once again, broken down into simple concepts, is the argument for using the garbage chute for organics.

1. Organics are the most virtuous of all waste. Organic waste comes from healthy, wholesome foods. The better you eat, the more organics you have. Produce results in organic waste. Packaged, processed foods result in regular landfill waste. If logistical realities require disposal options of differing levels of convenience, the more virtuous eating habits should be rewarded with the more convenient disposal method.

2. Disposing of organics is more urgent. We've all had days when we're cold or sick or busy and don't want to go all the way down to the garbage room or outside to the dumpsters. If you leave your organics sitting around in your apartment, they'll attract bugs. If you leave your landfill waste sitting around your apartment, it won't. And bugs will not only affect the apartment where the organic waste is left sitting around, but also the neighbouring apartments. It should be as effortless as possible to properly dispose of the waste that is most likely to attract bugs.

3. The organics bin is the grossest. If any of the bins in the garbage room or dumpsters behind the building are going to smell or have bugs or be oozing mysterious gunk, it's going to be the organics bin. As I mentioned above, putting stuff in the organics bin is the most virtuous method of disposing of the most virtuous category of waste. All this virtue should be rewarded by letting people do it from as far away from the grossness as possible, not by making them touch the gross bin.

4. Organics are best disposed of at night. Most organic waste comes from food preparation, most of which tends to happen at dinner time. People are most likely to want to dispose of it before they go to bed, so it doesn't sit around stinking up the place and attracting creepy-crawlies at night. However, garbage rooms and dumpsters behind buildings are scarier after dark, because nefarious creatures of the two-legged and the six-legged variety are more likely to be skulking about then. The importance of and the unpleasantness of disposing of organics at night is disproportionate when compared with the time-sensitivity of the disposal of other types of waste. People will feel much safer if they can take care of this chore in their own well-light hallway.

5. Some people are going to throw the organics down the chute anyway. Because of the anonymity of garbage chutes, some people are going to throw stuff down the chute just because they don't feel like going out of their way to dispose of it properly. As mentioned above, organics are most urgent to dispose of than other types of waste, the organics bin is the grossest of all the bins, and organics are both best disposed of at night and most unpleasant to dispose of at night. It therefore stands to reason that organics is the category of waste most likely to be thrown down the chute improperly. Why not turn this improper behaviour into optimal behaviour simply by redesignating the purpose of the garbage chute?

Help identify the mystery lace headpiece

I saw this woman on the subway with this white lace thing on her head. It was about the size of a maxi pad (without wings) and was pinned to her hair with the same kinds of pins that people use to keep yarmulkes on. The lace was kind of loose, kind of crocheted-like. The thing was too small to be called a cap, but too big to be called a headband. It was clearly entirely decorative, too loosely-woven and delicate to be functional.

I have the idea that this headpiece has some religious significance, but I don't know in what religion. The woman appeared white to me, and her hair was a medium to light brown, suggesting European ethnic roots. The rest of her clothes were unremarkable and I didn't catch any clues to her religion or ethnicity. I didn't hear her speak, so there are no linguistic clues.

Anyone have any idea what this lace headpiece is or what its purpose is? I know I've heard of such a thing before, perhaps in a novel, but I don't remember what it's for or what it's called.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Things the TTC Should Invent: non-binding ETAs on subway delay announcements

The other day I was in a subway delay due to smoke at track level. They announced there were shuttle buses, so everyone hurried over to the bus garage. I wasn't anywhere near close enough to make the first shuttle bus, but it looked like I might be able to jockey my way onto the second shuttle bus, so I waited around. We waited rather a long time with no second shuttle bus in sight, then there was an announcement saying service had resumed. The whole delay took maybe 10-20 minutes, making it hardly worthwhile to get on a shuttle bus. I wish I'd known that it was going to be so short - I would have grabbed a quick bite of breakfast instead of swarming the bus platform.

I asked TTC communications director Brad Ross if they've ever considered giving ETAs on subway delay announcements. I know it's not especially easy, but even just a rough idea would help us plan our next move. Under half an hour? Grab a coffee, do an errand, come back when the subway's ready. Over an hour? Get in line for the shuttle bus, call work and tell them what's up. Three hours? Go work from home for the morning. He replied that they do give ETAs when they have them, but it's difficult to tell. And I totally see where they're coming from on that. You don't always know exactly what the problem is, you don't always know how long until it's fixed, you don't want to underestimate the delay because people will get pissed off at you, you don't want to overestimate the delay because then you have the bad optics of frequent announcements saying "There will be a one hour delay on the Yonge-University-Spadina line" when it really ends up being only 15 minutes...

So what I think we should do, as a general social agreement among the people of Toronto, is ask the TTC to give us their best estimate based on the information they have, and in exchange we agree to accept their estimates as non-binding. It's like the download countdown on your computer. You know it isn't going to be accurate, you know the ETA is going to change weirdly multiple times, but that's okay. Really you just want to know if this is a good time to get up and go pee.

I think it would be helpful if the TTC could give us whatever information they have in terms of ETA, e.g. "We are currently experiencing a delay due to smoke at track level. This type of problem typically takes about 15 minutes to resolve, but our workers are still on their way to investigate so we aren't certain yet at this point." (Note to googlers: I completely made up that 15 minutes number and have no idea how long smoke at track level typically takes to resolve.)

And in exchange for this transparency, we, the people for Toronto, won't complain if it ends up taking 20 minutes or half an hour, or even an hour as long as they inform us once they've discovered it's more complicated. Because what we really want to know is should we line up for shuttle buses, or should we grab a coffee? Should we walk the rest of the way, or should we just wait for service to resume? I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd go for this arrangement.

What do you think, Toronto? Could we make this work? Would you rather have a possibly-inaccurate best guess?

Currently wondering

Suppose I have an opinion on some political matter, so I send an email to the Minister responsible for that portfolio. This Minister is not my elected representative - they represent another riding - but they are the elected official responsible for the issue in question. I am not a person directly affected by the political matter in question. I am writing in my capacity as a generally politically engaged concerned citizen, but I do not fall into any particular group that the government would have a legal or moral obligation to consult.

And suppose the Minister's political party does not consider me their target audience. Their party's leaked election strategy makes it clear that they are not interested in voters of my demographics, and outspoken members of the party have publicly stated that they consider my demographic to be a fringe group.

Would my email to the Minister actually be taken seriously? Or would they disregard me based on my demographics? Yes, I know that theoretically they're supposed to take concerns from every citizen seriously, but would they in reality?

Or what if they see that someone in my demographic opposes their widget policy, and then conclude that their widget policy must be on the right track?

I have never before called something evil in my blog

(Except in jest or when using hyperbole and other literary techniques.)

But it seems that H&M and Walmart not only throw unsold clothes in the trash, but sabotage them to render them unwearable in case anyone tries to salvage them!

I can see where they're coming from on throwing them out instead of donating them. It's horribly wasteful and poor corporate citizenship, but we've all at one time or another just thrown something out rather than go to the effort and logistics of finding an appropriate charity and schlepping the stuff to their collection point.

But to actually put time and resources into destroying them so anyone willing to abase themselves by digging through trash can't make use of them?? To think of the idea of putting time and resources into destroying them??? And to have enough people think it's a good idea that it actually gets done????

I think that is actual genuine evil. No ordinary sinner would think of such a thing.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Things They Should Invent: glasses-adjusting classes

My glasses always need to be adjusted about three separate times before they'll fit me properly. I have to kind of walk away in between and spend some time sand see how they annoy me rather than being able to do it in one go. Fortunately, every optician I've ever bought glasses from offers free adjustments. Unfortunately, ever optician I've ever bought glasses from is always slightly out of my way. I've never been in a situation where the optimal pair was available in my immediate neighbourhood.

As I've blogged about before, I feel like adjusting my own glasses should be within my grasp. But I don't know how to do it and can't entirely figure it out on my own. I'd need someone to teach me. In fact, I would totally pay money for someone to teach me.

Business idea: opticians should offer glasses-adjusting classes where they teach their customers the full skill set required to adjust glasses. They could totally charge a moderate amount of money for it - I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd be willing to make a one-time outlay to avoid having to go in to get my glasses adjusted for the rest of my life - which would surely be more profitable than the current model of unlimited free adjustments.

Apparently Hugh Jackman can juggle fire

A number of people I know (some of whom are reading this) are totally fangirl for Hugh Jackman. While they present a sound thesis supported by well-structured arguments and copious documentary evidence, he doesn't quite do it for me.

However, you have do to admire someone who can just randomly and gratuitously juggle fire.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

Anyone know the nitty-gritty of Ontario tenant law?

If my landlord does not give me a notice of rent increase, does that mean they can't increase my rent when my lease ends?

What I'm really asking: in previous years, I've gotten a notice of rent increase on Jan. 1 for a lease ending March 31. In previous years, there has been a large rent increase if I choose to go month to month, but a much smaller increase if I sign a new lease by the end of January (for a year-long lease starting April 1.) This year, I haven't gotten anything yet, so I'm starting to think about what I might do if I continue not to get anything.

On one hand, I'm thinking maybe I should say something so I don't lose my chance to renew at a lower rate. On the other hand, I'm thinking if I say something, they might go "Oh yeah, we forgot to increase her rent!"

My previous landlord did issue a notice of rent increase even when the rent increase was zero. I don't know if this is required.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Things They Should Invent: guitar karaoke

In regular karaoke, words appear on the screen so you can sing along. In guitar karaoke, tabs appear on the screen so you can play along. It's like Guitar Hero, but for real guitars.

Toronto Star Public Editor survey

The Toronto Star has a survey to see what readers would have done with certain decisions the Public Editor had to make in the past year. The problem with this survey is they asked yes or no questions, but provided a reason for the yes or no. Sometimes I had a different reason for my yes or no, and sometimes my answer was more nuanced. Here are some thoughts that didn't fit in the form.

2. Two women involved in an intimate relationship are charged with the first-degree axe murder of a man one of the women was also involved with. Would you publish numerous headlines labelling this as a "lesbian axe murder case."?

Yes. It's accurate and fits limited headline space.
No. Would you refer to a heterosexual axe murder case?

If I wanted headlines like "lesbian axe murder case", I'd read the Sun. The Star isn't the Sun, and I'd much prefer that it behaves accordingly.

3. A woman is photographed in Guatemala City standing topless on a street after being beaten, doused with gasoline and set on fire during a lynching. Passengers of a public bus accused the woman and three men of participating in an armed robbery. According to local media, 219 people were lynched so far this year and 45 of them died. Would you publish this Reuters news agency photo?

Yes. The photo tells much about vigilante justice in Guatemala.
No. It's highly disturbing and sexually exploitive.

I do see the point of publishing the photo specifically because it is highly disturbing. However, this woman has already suffered the indignity (on top of the lynching) of being seen topless by a massive crowd of people. I wouldn't want to add the indignity of being seen topless by a bunch of people in Canada. The ideal solution (perhaps logistically unfeasible) would be to get the subject's permission: do you want the world to see what happened to you?

7. Ken Lewenza is elected national president of the Canadian Auto Workers replacing long-time president Buzz Hargrove. Do you publish this headline: "New CAW boss has a hard act to follow"?

Yes. The president is the boss.
No. Union "boss" is an offensive stereotype.

What's the offensive stereotype? I'm completely unaware of this connotation. Without waiving the option of choosing to revise my opinion once I learn what the offensive stereotype is, I do see how the space limitations of headlines would be a factor in choosing this phrasing.

9. Three of Toronto's top chefs are asked for some back-to-school recipes for meals that fit in a thermos. A recipe for chili calls for a cup of beer. A corn chowder recipe requires two cups of white wine. Do you publish these recipes?

Yes. Yummy lunch fare here.
No. Alcohol does not belong in recipes for kids.

The question to which I don't know the answer: is the alcohol burned off in the preparation process, leaving only flavour? Or is it still present in the final meal? The question not asked here but that I think is relevant: how many parents are willing to purchase beer or wine for the specific purpose of using it in a recipe prepared for their kid's lunch?

10. A 21-year-old vacationer from Poland was one of three men who died after diving into the churning waters of Muskoka's Moon River. Your photographer and reporter are on the scene when police divers pull the man's body out of the river. A distraught woman who identifies the body kneels beside the dead man and kisses his hand before numerous onlookers. Would you publish this photo?

Yes. Though the Star rarely publishes photos of dead bodies, this heart-wrenching photo powerfully illustrates the human impact of this news.
No. It's an intrusion on a private moment of grief.

I don't think it's fair to publish it without the subject's permission. I don't ever want to be photographed in grief, and I think other people should be granted the same dignity.

11. While covering the royal visit of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Star columnist Rosie DiManno describes the duchess as "a tad dumpy" and quotes from a biography that says, "It's widely known that Camilla is great in the bedroom." In another column, she recalls that the late Princess Diana dubbed Camilla "a Rottweiler." In another, DiManno gives Camilla a C-minus for her Canadian debut. Would you publish these opinions of the Duchess?

Yes. Columnists have wide latitude to express their views.
No. It's disrespectful to a member of the Royal family.

It's not that it's disrespectful to a member of the Royal family, it's that it's disrespectful to a person. The Duchess of Cornwall is a 62-year-old woman. Even if she is a public figure, she should not be spoken of judgmentally for having the characteristics of a 62-year-old woman.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Calculating the HST tipping point (for Ontario)

Numbers come from this article, primarily because it landed in my lap. If you have any primary sources on hand, I'd appreciate any links in the comments.

In return for that day-to-day pinching of the pocketbook for consumers, Premier Dalton McGuinty's government is offering the income tax cut today, reducing the tax rate on the first $37,106 by one percentage point to 5.05 per cent from 6.05 per cent.

So this means that, for everyone who earns more than $37,106, you will save $371.06 in income tax.

Under HST, an additional 8% sales tax will be charged on items that were previously subjected only to GST. According to Revenue Ontario, that list is:

* Electricity
* Gasoline
* Heating Fuels
* Internet Access Fees
* Personal Services (e.g., Hairstyling)
* Professional Services (e.g., Legal, Accounting and Real Estate Fees and Commissions)
* Tobacco

So based on the information so far (I'll get to the factors I'm missing in a moment), the HST tipping point is whether you will be charged more or less than $371.06 in additional sales taxes over a year. The $371.06 would equal 8% of your total pre-tax purchases on items from the list above. So let's calculate:


So do you spend more than $4,638.25 on things from the list above? If not, no need to worry. If you do spend more than $4,638.25 on the items on that list, then the amount of money you will be down is 8% of any amount over $4,638.25. Where N = the amount spent on things on the list:


In other words, if you spend $5,000 on things from that list:


So you'd be paying an extra $28.94 a year in tax.

If you're happy with a rough estimate, you can stop here. If not, read on as I make it more complicated (likely with only marginal impact on the final number).

There are three factors I haven't taken into account in this calculation:

1. The transitional tax rebate. I haven't taken this into account because it's only temporary. If you would like to take this into account, add $300 if you're a single individual, and $1,000 if you're a couple and/or have dependents.

2. What if you earn less than $37,106? Then replace the $371.06 in the calculation above with 1% of your income. Or replace X in the following equation with your income and plug it into Google:


3. HST not only involves increasing sales tax on items previously subject to only the GST, but also eliminating sales tax on items that are not subject to GST. Problem: I can't find a list of items currently subject to only GST. But here's how you'd calculate it. Where Y equals the amount spent yearly on things currently subject to only GST:


The result of this equation replaces $4,638.25 above as the tipping point.

Want one giant overall equation?

N = the amount spent annually on things currently subject to GST but not PST
X = either your annual income or $37,106, whichever is less
Y = the amount spent annually on things currently subject to PST but not GST
Z = what HST will cost you. If it's a negative number, it will save you money.


Wherein I find the obvious solution to procrastination problems that have been plaguing me for years

Two things I keep procrastinating:

1. Housework
2. Watching videos I've downloaded (yes, I'm one of those people who procrastinates fun things too. I typically game or use the internet while watching TV or a DVD, so I keep not watching downloaded videos because I can't multitask them.

I just found the solution: watch the videos while I'm doing the housework! I'm now watching an ITV documentary on the making of Spamalot while cleaning my kitchen. I can't believe it took me so long to think of this!

What if the solution to ignorance isn't found in formal education?

You often see people interpret any ignorance they observe as a failure in education. "They should teach this in school," they say, "they should make it a required course."

I wonder if this might be doing us all a disservice?

As I've blogged about before, I didn't learn everything I needed to know about anything in high school, but rather got a starting point for learning things myself as the need arises. I'm wondering if, by treating ignorance as a failure of education, we're collectively absolving ourselves of our own responsibility to keep learning? If people don't know what prorogation means, even if they should have learned it in school and didn't, their job now as adults and functional members of society is to recognize that they should know what it means, and find out what it means. Not having learned it in school isn't nearly as bad as sitting there going "Waah, I don't know what prorogation means because I never learned it in school!" instead of spending 30 seconds googling.

I also wonder if, by deeming it a job for formal education, we're inadvertently giving it a mystique, framing it as something that needs to be taught instead of something that you can figure out yourself. And I'm worried that this will, in turn, alienate people who aren't so very into formal education. I read in Big Sort (and have observed hints in real life) that sometimes people who have not gone through formal education tend to perceive formal education as Other (and sometimes as a bit suspicious). If we view ignorance as a problem to be solved with formal education, would we be marking it as Other for people who don't have formal education, giving the tacit impression that understanding these things isn't for them, and/or that learning them is only for people who have formal education.

I'm not opposed to adapting our formal education system to meet our ever-evolving needs, but I am worried about giving the impression that formal education is the only way out of ignorance, rather than that people should be bringing themselves out of their own ignorance.

Missing Scene In Death

From Naked In Death:

[Eve:] "It's a lot of house for one guy."

[Roarke:] "Do you think so? I'm more of the opinion that your apartment is small for one woman." When she stopped dead at the top of the stairs, he grinned. "Eve, you know I own the building. You'd have checked after I sent my little token."

"You ought to have someone out to look at the plumbing," she told him. "I can't keep the water hot in the shower for more than ten minutes."

"I'll make a note of it."

What the book really needs is a scene where, the next time Eve takes a shower at home, she has epic hot water and water pressure. We know, based on the characterization that develops as the series go on, that Roarke would in fact actually have someone fix the plumbing, even if he'd heard of the problem from someone less important to him. I think showing this so early on would make him a much more sympathetic character, and would make it far more believable that Eve falls in love with him.

Nearly everything Roarke did in his early courtship of Eve came across as arrogant and pushy. Every favour or kindness he did for her came in a context where he forced his way into her space in a way that would trigger alarm bells in anyone who read Gift of Fear. He is made more nuanced, more likable, less assholic as the series goes on and we learn more about him and actually spend some time in his head, but at the point of the scene above I hadn't seen any of this and found it completely unrealistic in a trashy romance novel way that Eve found anything appealing about him. I continued reading the series because I enjoy spending time in the universe, find Eve inspiring (at this point despite the fact that she fell for Roarke), and already had the second book on my library holds list, but I don't think I would have added it to my holds list if it hadn't already been there.

But a simple half-sentence mention that there's now plenty of hot water would show Roarke being kind to Eve (and to everyone else in the building) in a way that does not aggressively push forward his own agenda, thereby leading the reader to a much more sympathetic interpretation of the character. Roarke hasn't yet at this point won over either the reader or Eve, so it's better to show us why he will rather than assuming it's inevitable.

I love New Year's Day

It's nothing to do with a fresh start or anything optimistic like that. The reason I love New Year's Day is that there are no actual or implicit expectations. There's nothing specific that I should be doing (or that it's "sad" if I don't "get to" do), no family or religious connotations, not even the social idea that we should be having fun. Plus it's one of the more widely-practised statutory holidays, which means hardly anything is open and I'm perfectly justified in not getting any errands done. I can sleep late and stay home and do whatever I want without any guilt. More statutory holidays should be like this.