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?