Thursday, December 29, 2011

The disparity between the size of glasses and the size of standard drinks

Reading about a game on the LCBO website that tests how well you can pour a standard drink, I was reminded of the first set of wineglasses I ever purchased.

I had one or two wineglasses among my worldly possessions already, but I wanted to get some that matched. They were cheap, from the dollar store or something, but they were decently nice-looking and I quite liked them. We christened them with a lovely glass of wine that gave us quite a happy buzz indeed. The next day, I got home from work and poured myself a glass of wine, and...discovered that there wasn't even one glass left in the bottle? How could that be? The two of us had one glass each the previous day, there are five glasses in a bottle, where did the rest of the wine go?

Turned out they were oversized glasses. When you filled them to a reasonable-looking place, they contained two standard drinks of wine (unlike my previous glasses, which, when filled to a reasonable-looking place, contained one standard drink of wine.) No wonder we got such a good buzz on the previous night! There hadn't been any serious consequences to that little adventure, but what if those glasses had been used to serve to someone who had been driving?

This gets me thinking that it would be useful if glasses intended for alcoholic beverages were only available in single standard-drink sizes. Of course, oenophiles would probably complain because they like those oversized bowls so you can get the nose of the wine. So what if there was a line on the glass itself indicating how far to fill it for one standard drink? What if the box they come in or the bottom of the glass was marked with a warning label saying how many standard drinks it holds?

This would probably still garner complaints about the government meddling in commerce and whatnot, so here's a faster and easier solution that should offend no one: the LCBO should give away free glasses. They should be simple but attractive, of decent quality, and sized to make it impossible to accidentally overserve. They should be available in any quantity up to whatever constitutes a normal set of glasses like you might find in a wedding registry. You can just walk in and pick them up, no drama, and perhaps they could even include them with purchases as a value-added bonus at the beginning. Drinking glasses are cheap (I've bought them commercially in a set for as little as 50 cents a glass), the LCBO's profits are high, and hindering accidental overserving surely falls within their social responsibility mandate. The fact that they're given away for free at the place where you go to buy alcohol anyway means that people would have to make more effort to get oversized glasses than to get standard-sized glasses, so more responsible drinking is easier than less responsible drinking.

Personally, I'd still prefer if all alcohol glasses commercially available had to be sized to a standard drink, but I think a lot of people would complain. Giving them away at the LCBO would get the job done for people who don't care what kind of glasses they use and people who do want their glasses sized to a standard drink, without giving those who want non-standard glasses any reason to complain.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wherein googleproofing may have been inadvertently invented 80 years ago

From the Wikipedia entry on the Shirley Temple cocktail:

The cocktail may have been invented by a bartender at Chasen's, a restaurant in Beverly Hills, California, in the 1930s to serve to the child actress Shirley Temple to help her deal with her growing alcohol addiction. By offering a non-alcoholic alternative to drink when not on-set, establishments frequented by the actress were able to hide her problem from the public.

Upon reading this, my first thought was to google up confirmation of whether Shirley Temple had an alcohol addiction. And I wasn't able to, because the search results were dominated by discussion of the drink, including statements that it's non-alcoholic and recipes for alcoholic ones.

If the drink was invented to help Shirley Temple hide her alcohol addiction, it was far more successful than they could possibly have imagined.

Do the less fortunate really need to be fed cafeteria-style?

Picture a holiday charity meal for the less fortunate. The most common image is a turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, veggies, etc. being served by friendly volunteers, with the occasional politician or celebrity mixed in for a photo op dishing out stuffing.

But why is it set up in such a way that there are volunteers and photo ops dishing out the food? That puts the clients in a position of forcing them to express gratitude to a different person for every single food item. That could feel awkward or humiliating for people who aren't entirely comfortable with receiving charity, and they might not feel free to ask for more stuffing please or no brussel sprouts thank you for fear of being judged.

It seems to me that serving the meal buffet-style, where people just help themselves to however much of whatever they want, would better protect the clients' dignity, with the added bonus of freeing up volunteers to do other work.

Am I missing anything? Is there any advantage to cafeteria-style that I'm not seeing?

Thursday, December 22, 2011


The Star:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY for Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011: You might remind others of a cat with nine lives this year. Don’t push Lady Luck too far. An element of excitement also runs riot in your next year. Flex, detach and maintain a sense of humour. Stay grounded and realistic. If you are single, you could meet someone very important to your life’s history. After this year, look at this tie more seriously. If you are attached, the two of you really care about each other. Domestically, one element could shake up the status quo. SAGITTARIUS makes a great doctor for you!



It seems you are under divine protection. It seems you can do no wrong. Take a few risks over the coming 12 months. Do things other people would not dare to try. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This is a particularly interesting set of horoscopes, because I've been considering buying a condo (with more seriousness than all the other times I've been considering buying a condo.) The mention of a doctor makes me a bit nervous though. I've had enough of doctors.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Analogy for eating for health

There are a lot of people in the world who eat with the primary goal of providing themselves with optimal health and nutrition. I'm not into this. One of my greatest sources of happiness in life is eating exactly what I want exactly when I want, and I find that focusing on health and nutrition unduly detracts from this simple pleasure. Health and nutrition people can't understand this. "But what could possibly be more important than your health?" they say. "It will make you live way longer."

Here's an analogy:

Imagine a sex act that doesn't give you an orgasm and (either on its on merits or by virtue of the partner you're doing it with) isn't particularly fun for you. The kind of sex act where you wouldn't feel at all deprived if you never engaged in it again. Now imagine the combination of sex act and partner are such that it takes a long time. It takes far longer than it would take you to have an orgasm with your favourite sex act. It takes long enough that you're starting to wonder why people consider premature ejaculation a problem. And imagine doing this sex act in a position where you have to do all the work. You can't just lie down and relax, you have to do it all yourself - and it takes way more work than your favourite sex act does.

Now suppose you have to do this sex act somewhere between three and six times a day, every single day, for the rest of your life. Even if you're away from home or out with friends, when it's sex time you have to drop everything and find a suitable place for the sex act (which is often away from all the fun everyone else is having), and you have to either carry around all the equipment necessary or make sure it's available wherever you'll be going, all of which is rather conspicuous and is detrimental to general social spontaneity.

Even if your favourite sex act isn't contraindicated, it's difficult to fit it into your schedule since so much of your time and energy (and physical tolerance for friction) are consumed by the non-fun sex act.

And if you complain about any of this, people reply with "But it's SEX! What could possibly be more important?" and cite research studies that show that if you have sex this particular way, you'll be able to continue to do so for decades longer than most people can maintain an active sex life.

Doesn't that sound like a special kind of purgatory?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What if the library gave patrons credit for early returns?

One thing that surprised me in discussions of the library charging for holds that aren't picked up is the number of people who are annoyed not just by people who don't pick up their holds, but by people who pick up their holds on the last day before they expire, or keep library materials check out right up until the due date.

I don't consider this a problem myself and I don't know if the library considers it a problem, but nevertheless my shower gave me an idea to address it:

What if libraries gave patrons credit for holds picked up early or books returned early? For example, using amounts that make the math easy and might not necessarily be the optimal ratio, suppose they credit one cent to your account for every day before the deadline that you either pick up a hold or return an item. Late fines are currently 10 cents a day, so this would mean that if you're a cumulative total of 10 days early in circulating your material, that will cancel out one day's late fine.

The big question here is whether circulating material faster is more important to the libraries than the revenue generated by fines. I don't know the answer to that question.

The other question is whether this would motivate people to game the system by taking out material they don't want and returning it right away. This incentive could be partially mitigated by allowing the credits to only offset future fines and you still have to pay fines already incurred. People could still game the system, but how many people are organized enough to game the system in anticipation of future late fines but not organized enough to get their books back in time? I don't know the answer to that question.

But if it turns out it actually is important for the library to encourage faster circulation of materials, this could be a starting point for brainstorming.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Analogy for banning niqabs (or any other clothing, for that matter) at citizenship ceremonies

I was so outraged that this is being done in my name that I couldn't blog about it for days. But my shower gave me an analogy:

Suppose there's an elite search and rescue team. Throughout its history, the vast majority of the team members have been male, although there's never been any rule or practice preventing women from joining.

The first step to joining the team is a physical fitness test. Everyone takes their test at the same time, and, because it's such an elite search and rescue team, these tests sometimes attract VIP visits and media attention, and applicants' families and friends often come along to watch. There has never been any dress code for the tests, but it's ended up that the vast majority of the candidates don't wear a shirt when taking the test. So, even though there are no gender or clothing rules, it's not at all uncommon to see an entire test group full of shirtless men. Some of the women who take the test also do it shirtless (Maybe they like the tradition? Maybe they're more comfortable that way? No one has ever thought to ask.) and some wear shirts. We don't have any data on how many do or don't wear shirts. (For that matter, we don't have any data on how many men, if any, wear shirts.) We actually don't even have any data on how many applicants are women. The statement that's it's dominated by shirtless males is based solely on visual observation.

Then, suddenly, the head of the search and rescue team announces that all fitness tests must be taken shirtless. In support of his statement, he cites a story told by one of his colleagues about how he was observing a fitness test and saw a group of women wearing shirts. The colleague told this story in a tone of voice that suggested he thought it was a problem, but the best reason given is that wearing a shirt is not what most people do. There's no logistical reason why a shirt would get in the way (they do need to briefly listen to applicants' lungs with a stethoscope before the test - although some question whether that's even medically necessary - but that could easily be done around a shirt or behind a screen away from the crowds and cameras), and there's no other dress code for the tests.

On top of all this, they announced the no-shirt rule at the last minute. There are thousands of applicants already in the system, who have spent years getting in shape and training their dogs and learning how to climb mountains and fly helicopters and scuba dive so they can fulfill their lifetime goal of being a part of this team, all without any idea that they might suddenly have to perform in front of a crowd and cameras in less clothing than they feel comfortable wearing.

Isn't that just assholic??? It's disproportionately cruel and humiliating to the people affected, and for no good reason. It's not going to give people a sense of belonging, it's going to give them an urge to flee.

The new recruits will grow comfortable as members of the search and rescue team on their own, as time passes and they collect empirical evidence that they are welcome and valued members. As we all know from our private lives, if you want to make someone feel comfortable about wearing less clothing, you don't start by removing their clothing; you start by making them comfortable. There's no reason to force people to do something they're uncomfortable with in front of a large audience on their very first day just for superficial visual consistency.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why the idea of nominal fees for library materials grates

Recently, my city councillor asked for feedback on the idea of the library charging $2 to borrow DVDs. My visceral reaction was negative - a far stronger negative reaction than could be explained by the basic fact that libraries are meant to be free. At first I thought that this was because people who are least able to afford $2 for a DVD (like my grandmothers, for example) are also less likely to have the resources and the know-how to acquire movies for free through unofficial channels. But another aspect that grated was this treatment of certain library materials as Less Than other materials.

I've finally figured out why this is bothering me so much. It all goes back to my letter to my 18-year-old self. One of the things I wrote was:

Read Harry Potter. Read the complete works of Miss Manners. Read the In Death series. Read Introvert Advantage. Read Malcolm Gladwell. Watch Eddie Izzard's comedy and every interview he's ever done. These will all not only entertain you, but help you navigate the world better.

All of these things were transformative. From Harry Potter, I learned how to do literary analysis (yes, this is AFTER an academic career that involved lit courses in four languages) and how to use the happy place fandom gives me to chase away my dark moods. From Introvert Advantage I learned how my brain and energy work. Miss Manners gave me much-needed perspective on real-world social expectations to counteract the skewed context I grew up in. Eddie and In Death made me brave (insofar as I am brave, which is still exponentially braver than I was before I met them). Malcolm Gladwell taught me about Entitlement, which also coalesced all the other stuff I'd learned.

All of these materials are rather lowbrow. Anyone could make a convincing argument that any of this stuff is Less Than and Unworthy. Despite the fact that I've been exposed to more than my fair share of Serious Art and academic writing, it was a children's book series, a newspaper advice columnist, a couple of pieces of mass-market pop psychology/sociology, a transvestite comedian, and a series of formulaic mystery novels that ended up being what made me.

(At this point, some of you are thinking "What kind of pathetic person gets life-changing inspiration from such banal material?" The answer to that question is, obviously, "Someone who very much needs it.")

So, you're now asking, what does this have to do with the library?

Like most people, I don't like to pay for something when I don't know if it's going to work. This means that I don't buy books, movies, or other art/entertainment/information media if I don't know if I'm going to like it or if it's going to teach me what I need to learn from it. I borrow it from the library instead.

I didn't know going in that any of this stuff would be transformative. I didn't even know if I would like it. I added it to my library list because it seemed like it had the potential to be mildly interesting, but I never would have bought it - not even for a nominal price. There's enough pop cultural comfort food to keep me reliably entertained that I don't ever need to try anything new. The fact that I could try them all risk-free is what made it possible for me to discover all these things.

On top of that, there's also the fact that these transformative works are far from the only things I borrowed from the library during that time period (the past 8 years of my life). Most of the stuff I borrowed wasn't nearly as transformative - I'm sure I don't even remember 80% of it! But, because I can borrow as much as I want, I get to separate the wheat from the chaff and become a better person in the process. Even a nominal fee would be enough make me think twice before putting a hold on something I'm unsure about, which would have been enough of a barrier to prevent me from discovering my true inspirations.

I'm sure no one else has my exact combination of inspirations, and many people have a similarly unpredictable combination of inspirations out there waiting for them. (And I sincerely hope there are even more out there waiting for me!) The world will become a better and better place as everyone expands their horizons and finds their way to their own inspiration, so we must not introduce any cause for hesitation.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A mission for Toronto Public Library patrons

They've recently announced a new list of possible savings for the library to meet its reduced budget. I have a number of discrete thoughts on these, which I'm going to spread out over probably three blog posts. But we'll start with a simple mission for all library patrons.

One of the proposed savings is to charge people who don't pick up holds. This grabbed my attention because I recently had a hold that didn't turn up on the hold shelf. I looked through all the books on the shelf and it wasn't there even though the computer said it was. I was up to talking to people that day, so I went to the librarian. She looked through the hold shelves with me and couldn't find it either, so she placed another hold on the item for me and it came in a few days later. However, it still shows up on my account as a hold that I didn't pick up.

While we were looking through all the hold shelves, the librarian mentioned they'd had a few similar problems recently - apparently some glitch in the computer system. And it occurs to me that this is the kind of problem that would likely be underreported - it's very easy to just shrug your shoulders and renew the hold once its hold shelf time has expired rather than tearing a busy librarian away from their job.

So, in light of this potential new policy, here's a mission for all Toronto Public Library patrons: if your hold isn't on the hold shelf but the computer says it is, tell a librarian. If the problem I encountered is systemic or recurring, it needs to be reported to its full extent before the new policy comes into effect. And if it turns out it was completely temporary and has been fully resolved, then everything is fine and no one will have to go to any trouble.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Things They Should Invent: administer medication through breastmilk

A friend of mine has to give medicine to her month-old baby. The medicine is liquid, and apparently tastes disgusting. The poor baby HATES it and tries not to swallow it, making the whole thing an ordeal.

What if the mother could take the medicine instead? Then she could nurse the baby as usual and the baby would get her medication without having to deal with the yucky taste.

We know that bad drugs can make their way into breastmilk, so why not good drugs? Obviously this wouldn't be appropriate for every medication or every situation, but wouldn't it be nice to have the option? I'm sure there are quite a few cases where the mother would rather take a bit of unnecessary medication herself than have to make her poor baby miserable several times a day.

Update: The mother of the baby in question informs me that it would change the taste of the milk, which slightly blows my mind. I do think the taste wouldn't be as strong as the taste of the medication itself, and still think science should figure out how to do this on principle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Assholic behaviour I have encountered recently

1. A two-lane side street. I'm waiting patiently to jaywalk mid-block. The car coming from my left stops and waves me past. I look right, and there aren't any cars coming from my right. So I start across. Then the car BEHIND the one that stopped to wave me by decides to pass the stopped car by driving on the wrong side of the road, nearly hitting me in the process. The weird thing is he wasn't even stopped that long - definitely under 10 seconds, maybe even as little as 5 - before the guy behind him decides to come roaring past on the other side of the road.

2. A rainy day. The lady walking in front of me down the street is carrying a golf umbrella. I always think this is inconsiderate because it makes it impossible for someone else to pass you on a narrow or crowded sidewalk while also carrying an umbrella, but she's walking fast enough that I don't need to pass her so she isn't my problem. Turns out she lives in my building. She walks up to the front door of the building, gets under the overhang, then starts to shake her umbrella out by opening and closing it repeatedly, taking twice as long as people normally take to do this. The problem with this is, between the diameter of the umbrella and the range of the water being shaken off it, there's no room for anyone else to get into the front doors or even under the overhang. Anyone else who might want to get in (i.e. me) is stuck outside in the rain until she finishes shaking out her umbrella.

And one I might have done myself...

3. There's a guy on the subway who looks rather like my cousin's husband. But it can't possibly be him - what on earth would he be doing in Toronto? Besides, I know my cousin's husband broke his leg recently, and this guy isn't on crutches or anything. Then he gets off the train...and he's wearing a walking cast! Ooops...

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A little less conversation: building better consensus-building

One thing I find absolutely tedious about watching youtubes of Occupy is the people's mike. It takes such a long time to say anything! This also echoes something I find tedious about municipal politics: live, in-person consultations where anyone gets to get up and talk. Again, it takes such a long time! Surely it would be faster, easier, and more convenient to have everyone submit their ideas in writing - reading is faster than talking, and the writing process tends to result a more organized deputation than extemporizing does.

But, at the same time, there's a certain democracy to everyone getting up and having their say in full that we don't necessarily want to lose. So how can we make the general process of public consultation faster and easier and less tedious without making it less democratic?

Here's what I've got so far:

We start with a whiteboard, which can be either literal, virtual, or metaphorical depending on what's needed. For a set and reasonable period of time, everyone writes on the whiteboard every factor they can think of that needs to be taken into consideration for the issue in question. Each factor only needs to appear on the whiteboard once, no matter how many people think it's important (we'll address the number of people who think it's important in a minute.) So even if every single person in the room thinks it's important for the new widgets to be backwards-compatible with existing widgets, only one person needs to stand up and say so or send in an email saying so for it to get written on the whiteboard.

This is also a question and answer time. Anyone can post or ask a question, and anyone can answer or expand on anyone else's answers. All questions asked and all answers given are recorded on another whiteboard for everyone's review.

After the period of time for contributing to the whiteboard is over, there's a voting period. During the voting period, everyone votes on each factor on two axes: Agree/Disagree and Important/Unimportant. You can cast a neutral vote by abstaining. Once all the votes have been tallied, you can see what the collective's priorities are. Then they can take action to implement everything that gets a high number of Agree and Important votes and avoid everything that gets a high number of Disagree and Important votes. Things voted Unimportant but with a clear Agree or Disagree consensus will be addressed if doing so doesn't interfere with the things voted Important. Things voted Important but without a clear consensus could be subject to further discussion/dissection, or looked at in terms of how they related to other Important factors with clearer consensus.

Whiteboard and voting will be made as accessible as possible. The whole thing could be online if everyone involved has internet access, but if that's difficult for anyone then in-person, telephone, write-in, and any other kind of input method people might require should be allowed.

The enormous advantage of this method would be that it eliminates duplication. Instead of having to hear (or even read) dozens of impassioned pleas on the importance of backwards-compatibility, only one person has to bring it up and the importance will be made clear in the voting phase. At the same time, if one lone maverick is insistent that the widgets should glow in the dark, it's right up there with all the other idea and will stand and fall on its own merits. If other people think it's a good idea, it could go through even though that one guy doesn't have very much reach.

This method of consensus-building is far from perfect, but I'm putting it out there as a starting point. Improvements welcome.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

You can't just replace screen time with exercise

I was annoyed to wake up yesterday morning to my radio telling me that the Heart and Stroke Foundation thinks we should be exercising when we would normally be watching TV or looking at the internet. As though those two things are anywhere near interchangeable.

Screen time is pleasurable and relaxing; exercise is a chore.

Screen time is multitaskable, conducive to cooking or eating or housework or light reading or more than one kind of screen time at once; exercise requires the full attention of your whole body and entirely too much of your mind.

Screen time is logistically simple - just turn it on and plop down; exercise requires different clothes and a shower afterwards and, depending on your health situation, planning what you do or don't eat before and/or after.

Analogy: suppose I decide that people aren't intaking enough current events and should read more newspapers. When they protest they don't have the time, I say "How much time do you spend driving around in car every day? Why don't you spend that time reading a newspaper instead?"

Not that simple, is it?

This irritated me so much that I skipped exercising yesterday just because I didn't want them to win.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things They Should Invent: robocalls that disconnect automatically when they hear a voicemail beep

I hate it when spam robocalls leave me a message on my voicemail, because then I have to log into my voicemail and delete the message so my phone won't keep telling me I have a message waiting. This most often happens with those "To lower your rates, press 1" robocalls, so leaving a message doesn't even help them with their marketing because they need a real person to press 1 in real time. And, because they annoy me so much, these are the calls that I'm most motivated to report do the Do Not Call List people.

Solution: technology that would allow robocallers to recognize the voicemail "leave a message" beep and hang up when they hear it. That way the spammers aren't wasting their time and resources, people aren't getting pissed off, and people are less likely to report them for DNC list violations. Win-win!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Comedy guilt

This takes a lot of talent:

He's doing silent physical comedy all alone, without anyone to play off or react to. He's doing it in front of a live studio audience without corpsing. There's fire involved, and a live animal on stage with him.

But it doesn't make me laugh. Physical comedy very rarely does it for me, even though it takes a lot of skill, athleticism, choreography, timing, and rehearsal. In this particular case, rehearsing probably meant they had to light the set on fire spray foam about, and clean up multiple times. To say nothing of the work involved in writing the whole thing.

But it still doesn't make me laugh, and I feel really guilty about that.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My dreams are back!

For my whole life, I've gotten particularly vivid, interesting, and emotionally satisfying dreams right before I wake up naturally. That's why it's so important to me to sleep to completion at least once a week. My typical pattern is I sleep until early morning, wake up to pee, and, if I don't have to get up early that day, go back to bed for dream time. The dreams come at their best around 8-10 a.m., regardless of what time I went to bed.

But this pattern got disrupted when my GERD asserted itself this past summer. During the initial phase when I couldn't eat, I was going to bed early from fatigue and weakness and waking up early from hunger. After I was diagnosed, my diagnosis kept haunting my dreams (a recurring character was a demon with my face and a gremlin's body who had been sentenced to a hell where she was forced to eat the exact same quantity of the exact same dry, tasteless food every day, regardless of how hungry she was). The changes to my bedtime routine I made to trick myself into drinking less made me go to bed early, which made me wake up early, which made me miss peak dreaming time.

But the past few nights, I've naturally stayed up late, and naturally slept later, and finally started having dreams like I'm used to. Vivid, interesting, plot-filled, satisfying dreams that I'm physically capable of returning to after waking up if I roll back over and close my eyes again.

Some might say that this isn't a good thing, that it was better when I was naturally waking up earlier without any particular incentive to go back to sleep. But my dream time is an important part of myself that I'd thought I'd lost forever, so I'm very glad to have it back!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What if patients were allowed to deprioritize longevity?

They recently changed breast cancer screening guidelines, reducing screening in areas where it hasn't been proven to reduce mortality.

What bugs me about this is they're only looking at mortality. The reason why I'd be particularly concerned about breast cancer as compared with other cancers is I don't want to lose my breasts. I like my breasts and I want to keep them. If I'm going to be moved to take any particular measures to avoid breast cancer, it's going to be because I want to keep my breasts, not to avoid dying. However, we don't have the information to make that decision. They didn't look at whether early detection reduces the need for mastectomies, or, for that matter, chemotherapy. (I'd also very much like to keep my hair and continue my 17-year non-vomiting record.)

This is similar to my attitude towards GERD. I've been thinking about it pretty much non-stop for the past three months, and I've concluded that I'd very much prefer being able to eat exactly what I want for 100% of my life, even if it means my life is much shorter. I'd rather die at 50 having eaten exactly what I want every single day than live to 100 without eating anything that makes me happy. (Unfortunately, this isn't quite an option, because the disease manifests itself as difficulty eating. If I get esophageal erosion or Barrett's esophagus or esophageal cancer, I will be physically incapable of eating pleasurably.) However, the general medical approach assumes that dietary restrictions are a perfectly reasonable first step in preventing what might ultimately develop into esophageal cancer, and I can't find any sign that medical science is even thinking about working to eliminate the need for dietary restrictions.

As a patient, I'd really like to have the option of choosing to have my medical care not focus on keeping me from dying, and instead prioritize getting the most out of whatever time I do have. (And I want to be able to define "getting the most out of" for myself, so that it includes such fripperies as pleasure and vanity.) This would require not only the consent and cooperation of my medical team, but also the consent and cooperation of medical science. My doctor can't change my breast cancer screening protocol to maximize my likelihood of being able to keep my breasts unless medical science does research into whether screening helps avoid mastectomies, not just prevent death.

At this point, some people reading this are probably thinking "But...I want to avoid death!" And I know that with breast cancer awareness specifically, some people are really bothered by campaigns that focus on the fact that breasts are awesome rather than the fact that cancer can be fatal. So I'm not saying that patients shouldn't be able to prioritize survival and longevity. I'm just saying that we should have a choice. If you want to live to 100 no matter what, medicine should help you. If I don't have a problem with dying younger because it will spare me Alzheimer's, medicine should help me get what I want out of life.

From a disgustingly pragmatic point of view, allowing patients to deprioritize longevity might also save the health system money. Why pour resources into extending the lives of people who don't care if their lives are extended? (You might say "To keep them from dying of something complicated and expensive," but who's to say they won't die of something complicated and expensive decades later anyway? (Someone really should do research on that.)) There's the potential to save a few patient-decades of care with the full consent of the patients, and actually make them happier while doing so.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Things They Should Invent: minimum Service Canada staffing levels proportionate to the number of unemployed Canadians

Recently in the news: there are delays in Employment Insurance because the government has cut EI processing jobs.

That seems rather backwards, doesn't it? Demand is up, so you cut back your workforce? I can't imagine that decision being made anywhere in the private sector. (Of course, I also couldn't imagine it being made in the public sector.) If Service Canada increased the number of EI workers during times of high unemployment, they would not only be addressing the increased demand, they'd be marginally reducing demand (and the unemployment rate) by hiring unemployed people. Automatic job creation!

Therefore, I propose they make a policy that the number of EI workers has to be at least X% of the number of people on the unemployment rolls.

At this point, you're wondering why I want them to make a policy rather than just being smart and hiring more people. The reason for making a whole policy is to prevent the same problem from reoccurring in the future. The government could spin it beautifully as a sustainable policy to better serve Canadians and put people back to work - alluding to the fact that private sector totally hires people when demand goes up, to play to certain segments of their base. Once it's all written down and codified, then they'll have to jump through hoops to lay off EI workers during times of high unemployment rather than the current situation of having to jump through hoops to hire more EI workers during times of belt-tightening.

You're probably also wondering why I put the wiggle-words "at least" in there. That's to give Service Canada reasonable leeway in its staffing. If they have some people who are nearing retirement, this will allow them to hire replacements (and get them trained and reasonably experienced) before the retirees leave with all their corporate memory. This also prevents them from necessarily having to lay off workers at the slightest fluctuation of the unemployment rate.

At this point, you're probably wondering "But what if improved technology results in fewer workers needed per unemployed person? Then they'll be stuck with all these extra workers." That could be addressed with a clause requiring an automatic review of the prescribed minimum threshold whenever existing workers find themselves with a certain amount of downtime.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Causes I would like to get involved in

1. Sufficient and reliable funding for all medical research

Many charity fundraisers are raising money for research into various diseases. Our first thought when we hear this is that it's a good cause. But why is such vital medical research dependent on charity? There should be a better way to make sure that all medical research gets the funding it needs without having to resort to begging or be dependent on the kindness of strangers.

2. Replace property tax with income tax

As I've blogged about before, property tax is silly because it does not directly reflect ability to pay. I know that municipalities use it because that's what the law limits them to, but I think it would serve us all far better if property tax were eliminated and replaced with an income tax at the municipal level.

However, I don't know how to make either of these things happen. Does anyone know of any organizations that are already working on these issues?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Garbage chute poll

Please answer in the comments: which side of the building is your garbage chute on? I welcome multiple answers if you can remember from previous buildings you've lived in as well.

This question came up when I was taking out the garbage today and started pondering why the garbage chute is always on the east side. And I came up with a really good explanation too: the prevailing winds are from the west, so having the chute on the east reduces the incidence of that annoying phenomenon where the wind whistles up the garbage chute.

Then I realized that I don't actually know if the chute is always on the east. I've only lived in two buildings with garbage chutes, both of which had a north-south main hallway. In my old building, the service/freight driveway that garbage trucks would have to use was on the east side of the building (and could not have been positioned any other way. In my current building, it's actually on the west side and there's a bit of a convoluted system to get the garbage from the garbage room to the truck area.

So I'm trying to figure out whether I've spotted a pattern or this is just a coincidence. Please contribute your data points.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is it easier to start a business in a small town?

In one episode of Corner Gas, Brent mentions that he runs the only gas station for 40 km. In another episode, he mentions that he's started renting out movies because no one else in town does. When Lacey is renovating the Ruby, the townsfolk are at loose ends because there's nowhere to get a good cup of coffee. Watching this, it occurred to me that it might be easier to run a business in a very small community, because you'd be the only game in town.

This made me think of a book I'd read a while back, Big Sort. One of the points made in Big Sort was that, as a general demographic trend, people who live in less urban areas tend to prioritize self-sufficiency. The book didn't comment on entrepreneurship, but in life in general I have observed a correlation between valuing self-sufficiency and valuing entrepreneurship. In the more extreme cases, this manifests itself as thinking that applying for jobs and waiting for someone to hire you is insufficiently diligent, and what you should really be doing is starting your own business and creating your own job.

So I wonder if this entrepreneurship-├╝ber-alles attitude correlates with more rural environments, and, if so, if entrepreneurship looks more feasible to them just because the small businesses with which they're familiar are the only game in town, rather than one of three on the same block?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wholesale and retail

Wholesalers sell products at lower prices and in larger quantities to retailers, who sell them at higher prices and in smaller quantities to customers. Customers usually can't buy wholesale - you have to be a business to do so.

I wonder how this system came about? Because if you think about it, it's really weird and arbitrary. If such a system didn't exist, could you imagine being the first person to invent it? "Okay, you can buy my widgets at very low prices, but you have to buy at least a thousand of them, and you can only do so if you have a store set up to sell them to other people." That would never work! But somehow it has worked, and it adds this whole extra layer to the economy.

And why do you have to be a business to buy wholesale anyway? If an individual wants to buy a whole pallet of toilet paper, why on earth would a wholesaler care?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Things They Should Invent: Movember buy-out

Movember is a fundraiser where people spend the month of November growing a mustache, to raise funds for prostate cancer research.

The problem, of course, is that mustaches are yucky. I wouldn't want to grow, kiss, touch, or look at mustaches. And I'm sure I'm on the only person in the world who feels this way.

But it looks really assholic to not participate in a charity fundraiser - or, worse, to try to convince someone else not to participate in a charity fundraiser - on purely aesthetic grounds, no matter how well-founded they are.

Solution: you can contribute money to a Movember participant earmarked as anti-mustache funds. If any participant's anti-mustache funds exceed his pro-mustache funds, he gets to shave.

For example, suppose your husband is participating in Movember and has raised $100 for growing a mustache. You find mustaches repulsive and don't much fancy the idea of going a whole month without enjoying the benefits of his mouth. So if you contribute $101 in anti-mustache money, he'll shave. Of course, if someone else donates more pro-mustache money to him, you'll have to donate even more anti-mustache money.

At first glance, paying to shave mustaches seems contrary to the spirit of Movember, but it would actually bolster its missions of raising money and awareness. Since the anti-mustache money would go to the same charity as the pro-mustache money, this introduces the potential to double the amount of money raised! And giving anyone the ability to eliminate people's ugly facial hair will certainly do way more for awareness than simply having some people walking around with ugly facial hair. (Compare: "Dude, what's with the cheesy mustache?" "I'm raising money for prostate cancer research." vs. "Dude, what's with the cheesy mustache?" "If you donate $X to prostate cancer research, I'll shave it!")

How many complaints about our health system are due to poor communication?

A while back there was a story in the news about a lady who fell in a hospital and was told to call an ambulance.

TorontoEmerg points out that paramedics would have the equipment to move a fall patient without damaging the spine.

So it sounds like the real problem is that they didn't explain, or didn't successfully explain, to the lady why they needed an ambulance.

I've only had one ER visit in my life, for a broken bone when I was a kid. I didn't understand what was going on, and because of that I thought they weren't going to fix me, at all, ever. Even though I've learned far more about diagnosis and triage in the intervening years and know intellectually that their actions were appropriate, I still can't describe it in detail because it makes me flash back to that feeling of terror, and to this day I find anything having to do with bones absolutely squicky.

Even in less serious situations, lack of communication can be upsetting. I once asked my doctor if I could be vaccinated against chicken pox. She ordered tests to make sure I didn't already carry the antibody, then when they'd confirmed that her office called me to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated. I showed up at the appointment, and the doctor asked me "Where's the vaccine?" I looked at her, she looked at me, I looked at her, she looked at me... It turned out she was supposed to give me a prescription for the vaccine (she hadn't) which I was then to get filled at the pharmacy and bring back to her so she could inject me. I felt awkward and embarrassed, and it caused a bit of a kerfuffle with the office scheduling because she had to take the next patient while I filled the prescription and then fit me back in for my injection, and I had to pressure the pharmacy to fill the prescription as quickly as possible because they were waiting for me upstairs at the doctor's office.

All this gets me thinking: how many of people's complaints about the medical system are due to flawed communication? So much is obvious and everyday to medical professionals but completely new and rather scary to patients. How many complaints would be averted if medical professionals were able to successfully explain processes and reasoning and unknowns and expectations to patients?

Things Google Should Invent: reverse sort by date

Currently, you can sort your Google search results by date, which puts the most recent results first. But the only way to see the very oldest results is to keep clicking the last of the available pages until you reach the end of the results, which can be a wee bit time-consuming if there are millions of them.

Google has the information, the technology exists (most things that have a sort by date function let you choose the order), why not give us the option for those cases where we need it?

Wherein I solve a mystery from half a lifetime ago

Despite the bullies I faced in middle school, I managed to develop a small group of friends. In retrospect, it was a rather rudimentary definition of friendship, but I had people to do school projects with and talk on the phone with and invite along if I wanted to go to a movie.

We weren't much in touch over the summer between Grade 8 and Grade 9 (which was normal - my family tended to go for long vacations), but then when high school started, instead of picking up where we'd left off as usual, they simply stopped being friends with me. They didn't fill me in on plans and they ignored me if I was there. They seemed to have rather quickly made friends with some girls from the other elementary schools, and some of those girls were mean to me - stealing my things, laughing at me as though I'd violated some rule I didn't know about. My friends had also become, for lack of a better word, coarser. They'd taken up smoking and didn't appear to have any objection to drinking or drugs, they swore more, they listened to ruder music, and they seemed to be interested in sex. And, on top of it all, they seemed kind of judgmental of me for not automatically having gone through the exact same changes. (Yes, I would later take up some of these habits, but I was 13 at the time of this story and not ready yet.) It didn't make any sense to me, and I didn't understand what had happened.

The end result was I spent the next two years literally friendless. I had no one to do projects with, no one to talk on the phone with, no one to go to the movies with. And I had no idea what had happened or why, which kind of fucked up my ability to develop other friendships.

But I was recently poking around on facebook, and, 17 years after the fact, discovered what had happened: the summer between Grade 8 and Grade 9, they joined cadets.

That's where they met the girls from the other elementary school who were mean to me. That's where they took up smoking and other coarse habits. And that's where they developed a whole other life that didn't include me, or even include treating me with basic civility once we were in classes together again.

Their decision not to ask me to join cadets along with them was completely reasonable and correct. I would not have done well in that context and we all knew it. But the irony is that some very vocal adults in my life kept encouraging me to join cadets, and later reserves, saying it would be good for me. As though there was something deficient in my character that would be remedied by sending me into a context where I had every reason to believe I would be bullied even more, among other problems. And all this time, it ended up being the thing that turned my perfectly nice, slightly dorky middle-school friends into coarse, unkind people that most adults certainly wouldn't want their kids to be, or to associate with.

Gillette Fusion ProGlide

I recently received a sample of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor. This razor is intended for men to use on their faces, but I'm a woman and I used it on my legs and armpits.

I discovered that, just like it says on the tin, you can sort of glide it lightly over your skin. I can use a lighter touch than my usual Schick Quattro. However, the first couple of uses I got a bit of razor burn on my legs, which hasn't happened to me in ages. Note that I use body wash for lather when shaving my legs. The manufacturer would probably suggest using their own proprietary shaving cream or gel, but I look at products in terms of how they fit into my existing routine, not what kind of new routine they ask me to create.

I find the size and shape of the handle less ergonomically suitable to leg shaving than my Schick Quattro (which makes sense, because the ProGlide isn't intended for leg shaving and the Quattro is).

The razor has a little extra blade on the back, which they call a "precision trimmer". I find it useful for that little bit between the Achilles tendon and the sticky-outy ankle bone, which I always miss when shaving.

In my winter routine of shaving every other day, I notice that I have less stubble 24 hours after shaving compared with my usual razor, but about the same amount 48 hours after. So it doesn't make me need to shave less frequently, but it keeps me presentable a bit longer.

I also noticed, after less than a month's use, the green moisturizer strip seems to be flaking off. I don't usually have that happen with women's razors, and I've never had it happen so quickly.

Overall, it's not for me. (Which I knew going in - it's for men's faces, not women's legs.) It does glide like they say it does, but it doesn't have the comfort and longevity of my existing razor. It's good enough that I'll use it until it doesn't shave me well enough any more, but I won't be buying more blades for it.

Analogy for Greece

I've been reading a lot about the situation in Greece, and one thing that keeps popping up is that, depending on how it's framed, either there are an awful lot of people who aren't paying their taxes, or the government is particularly ineffective at tax collection. In any case, the salient point is that taxes that, by law, should be ending up in government coffers, aren't.

The more I think about this, the more that it seems that "austerity" isn't going to solve this problem. Here's an analogy for why:

Suppose you own a store. It's the only store in the area and it sells practically everything a person might want.

Unfortunately, your store has a severe shoplifting problem. Entirely too much merchandise is walking out the door without being paid for.

Downsizing employees isn't going to stop the shoplifting. You'll have fewer people to look out for shoplifters, plus a bunch of people with insider knowledge of your store who are suddenly disgruntled against you and lacking money to pay for their purchases.

Raising prices isn't going to stop the shoplifting. If your merchandise is less affordable (or even just perceived to be unfairly priced), that's certainly not going to stop existing shoplifters from shoplifting, and might incite more people to start shoplifting because they either can't afford your new prices or don't feel it's fair to pay your new prices.

Cutting back on the range or quality of your products isn't going to stop the shoplifting. People who are going to shoplift are going to shoplift what you have. Particularly discerning customers with the means to do so may opt to travel to a larger centre to buy the product that you no longer stock, or to special-order them, which means that the customers who are best positioned to provide you with revenue will have fewer opportunities to do so.

It's true that any of these measures might fix your balance sheet temporarily, for the next quarter or so, but none of them are going to solve the real problem and they may well actually make it worse. To solve the actual problem, you need to either incentivize your customers to pay for their purchases, or make it more difficult for them to walk out without paying. Similarly, Greece needs to either convince its people to pay their taxes, or make tax evasion more difficult.

Things that took a year to make it into the news

1. G20 jail photos raise alarm bells for police chair.

Why were these alarm bells not raised day of? Reports of jail conditions were making it into my twitter feed while it was still going on, and I'm not even particularly connected.

2. Getting a buried Eglinton Crosstown line across the Don River would be difficult and expensive.

Why did it take them a year to notice this? The Don River has always been there!

What if quality of housing counted towards section 37 community benefits?

I was looking at City of Toronto documents for a proposed development, and I was surprised to see that the developer had to contribute a certain amount of money as "community benefits" to various projects in the area. Turns out this is set out in section 37 of Ontario's Planning Act. In basic terms, it means that if developers want more height or density than normally permitted, they have to give something back to the community in exchange. In the documents I was looking at, they suggested contributing money to parks or streetscape projects.

But what if developers could contribute their community benefits through quality of housing?

For example, what if they provided more family-sized suites, or lower prices, or more energy-efficient housing, or some combination of the above? What if they provided some of the suites for use as public housing? What if they reserved a certain number (or even all!) the suites for purchase by owners rather than investors or agents who are just going to buy and flip or rent them out for profit?

As an area resident, I find it beneficial to increase the supply of suites that meet my needs, even if I'm not immediately in the market for moving. If the supply increases, that might drive down prices, thus reducing my rent increase as well as making it easier to buy.

There would need to be measures to make sure that they don't introduce crappy housing as a baseline, upgrade it to normal housing, and call it a community benefit. There also need to be measures to make sure that this better-quality or better-value housing benefits actual residents, rather than getting snapped up by investors.

Off the top of my head, perhaps quality of housing could be measured relative to the rest of the neighbourhood. If it's basically the same as the rest of the neighbourhood, you get fewer points than if you're introducing the first building in the neighbourhood to have central air conditioning. This is analogous to how the City might try to encourage grocery stores to move into neighbourhoods that are food deserts, but wouldn't take any particular measures to encourage grocery stores to move into neighbourhoods that already have a couple of grocery stores.

To keep investors and flippers from yoinking better-value housing, perhaps the amount of community benefit credit the developer gets for building lower-priced units could be based on the number that are still occupied by the original owners after a certain amount of time. The flaw here is that the developers don't have much control over what people do with their units after they buy them, but they do have the power to stop these kinds of marketing techniques and instead focus on the actual community they're becoming a part of.

The dialogue surrounding development and intensification all too often seems to disregard the fact that what they're building are people's homes, and the people who live there will be citizens, constituents, and community members. I'd really like to see analysis of a development's impact on "the community" include the people who will be living there.

Good morning!

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

There might be some posts dealing with news items that are no longer fresh, because I'll probably be tapping into my drafts folder and unblogged ideas. Just think of them as deleted scenes that are now included in DVD extras.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A faster alternative to peeling eggs

The way I was taught to open hard-boiled eggs is to smash them on the counter and roll them around until there's a bunch of cracks in the shell, then peel the shell off. I find that disproportionately time-consuming (#FirstWorldProblems).

I've discovered a faster way. You know how you open a soft-boiled egg by putting it in an egg cup and tapping the shell with the spoon until it breaks into two pieces? Put your hard-boiled egg down on a plate or bowl (or the counter if no one's watching) and tap it like you would a soft-boiled egg but lengthwise instead of widthwise. Now you've got two pieces, and each piece is the perfect size to scoop out of the shell with a teaspoon. Way faster!

The disadvantage of this method is you need a spoon and perhaps a dish of some sort, but if you have a dishwasher it's more efficient.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

People who are really two people

When I hear of someone but they don't have particular immediate importance to me, I mentally file away their name with the set of distinguishing characteristics. Sometimes I later hear of another person with a reasonably similar set of distinguishing characteristics, and I file their name away too. Then I carry these names around for a while, not realizing that they're two different people until I see them compared or contrasted.

Here are a few people I've recently learned are two different people:

- Van Halen and Van Morrison

- Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder

- Keith Olbermann and Anderson Cooper

- Peggy Nash and Cheri DiNovo

- Brian Posehn and Louis C.K.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fear and respect

Before the G20, I respected the police and was not particularly afraid of them.

Since the G20, I'm afraid of police and find it very difficult to respect them.

It appears that, in my emotional matrix, fear and respect correlate inversely, and might even be mutually exclusive.

I'm more inclined to cooperate with people when I respect them than when I fear them. Respect makes me actually want to cooperate, whereas fear makes me just not want to get caught not cooperating. (Nuance: fear doesn't make me not want to not cooperate, it just makes me not want to get caught not cooperating.)

It would be interesting to study how universal these feelings are.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Half-formed idea: how to incentivize clinical testing of alternative medicine

I previously came up with the idea that they should incentivize clinical testing of natural remedies and other alternative medicine.

Here's about half a solution: everything that has been clinically proven gets covered by OHIP.

The advantage for practitioners of alternative medicine and for patients is that treatment is no longer limited by the patient's budget. Patients can receive - and practitioners can be paid for - what treatment is needed.

The advantage for social responsibility is that this makes it easier to get things that have been tested than things that haven't been tested.

The advantage for OHIP is that alternative medicine would probably be in many areas cheaper. Pharmaceuticals and medical technology can be hellaciously expensive. If herbs or acupuncture can be proven to do just as good a job, even if it's in just 10% of situations, that would save significant money.

This would mean that OHIP would have to cover a wider range of things than it currently does, such as medication and dental care. But that's a good thing - everyone needs those things and they represent significant expenses for people who don't have benefits through their jobs. Broader coverage would be more in line with OHIP's actual mandate.

One change that would be necessary is coming up with a mechanism for OHIP to cover over-the-counter medications. Many of them have been clinically tested, and we don't want to clog up the health care system by forcing people to go to the doctor for a prescription for vitamins or decongestant. But that shouldn't be too difficult to work out. Our health cards have magnetic strips, so why not just swipe them at point of sale?

In this plan, things that have not undergone any clinical testing will still remain available and paid for at the patient's expense, like they are now. Things that have gone through testing and have been proven ineffective but harmless will also continue to be available at the patient's expense. Only things proven to be actively harmful will be pulled. So, for proponents of alternative medicine, there's no downside unless they're peddling snake venom.

The missing link in this plan is still funding and facilities for conducting the research in the first place. It's likely a significant start-up expense and I doubt there are labs just sitting around waiting to be used. They'd still have to work out that part.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Complaints about baby clothes

A friend of mine is having a baby any minute now, so I was looking at baby clothes. So many of the things I saw were ridiculous! These include:

- Jeggings. For infants. The whole point of jeggings is to get a nice smooth line under your long sweater, which isn't going to work on a baby because they're chubby and bow-legged and wearing diapers.

- Those velour "juicy" tracksuits. For infants.

- Sleepers with gaudy designer logos. It doesn't seem right to make someone who doesn't understand the logo advertise the designer. They weren't even classy-looking, like some logoed handbags are. They were utterly generic and I wouldn't have looked twice at them even without the logo.

- An adorable little sleeper with a rocket ships on it, and the words "Space Boy". (And no, it wasn't from the computer game. Just generic rocket ships.) Which annoyed me, because I was totally about to buy it because rocket ships are awesome, but the baby I was shopping for is a girl. Why would the designers of this garment exclude half their potential market?

- Clothes that were so beautifully soft and fuzzy on the outside that I kept wanting to pet them, but coarser and rougher and not nice at all on the inside. Why on earth would you put the nice soft fuzzy part where the baby can't feel it, and then put something coarse and rough against the baby's skin?

I also noticed in a toy store they had smurfs in their stuffed toy section. I considered getting one (because someone gave me a smurf when I was a baby and it brought me much happiness), but they weren't nice at all. They didn't even have fur, they were just this poor quality polyester stuff.

I don't know anything about babies and I don't know anything about how to tell quality in clothes. It shouldn't be that hard to make baby clothes that I don't consider unacceptable!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Things Politicians Should Invent: keep track of constituents' track record

I write to my elected representatives on a fairly regular basis, often expressing concern about possible outcomes of certain policy proposals. There have been times when I've been clearly right or clearly wrong. In other words, my emails says "I'm concerned that if you pass this piece of legislation, this Unquestionably Bad Thing will happen." And sometimes it either does or does not happen. In many cases it's too soon to tell, and in many other cases I'm expressing a personal preference rather than making a prediction, but sometimes my emails contain predictive statements whose accuracy can, at some point in the future, be objectively verified.

It occurs to me that I'm most likely not the only constituent making predictive statements whose accuracy can be verified. And if this is the case, politicians' offices could keep track. Perhaps patterns will emerge as to which constituents have the best foresight, and then politicians could weight the opinions of those with the best foresight more heavily, to the benefit of us all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Sometimes you hear of a business or employer cutting back on its employees' pensions (and sometimes governments cutting back citizens' pensions), saying it can no longer afford the pension.

Let's think about how you make a pension. You have the employees and the employer all pay in some money, usually a proportion of the salary. The amount of money they need to pay in is determined by professional pension managers. They calculate how much money is needed using actuarial tables and other complicated tools that I don't understand, then they take the money and invest it to create a fund that will pay out the promised amounts on the promised schedule.

If the pension is no longer sustainable, that means a) the pension managers fucked up, and b) more money is needed in the pension fund.

But do the people in charge of managing the pension ever face any consequences for fucking up? And do the employees ever even get offered the chance to pay what it costs to make the pension sustainable?

And then, as a result of the fact that professional pension managers who manage pensions full-time can't seem to manage pensions properly, the industry is moving towards defined contribution pensions, where those of us who aren't professional pension managers have to figure out how to manage our own pensions on top of our own full-time work.

Analogy: You hire a contractor to make your home wheelchair accessible, because a member of the household is going to need a wheelchair. You don't know much about making houses accessible, so you say "Work out what needs to be done, tell me how much it will cost, and I'll pay you in monthly installments." So the contractor works this out, you agree upon a price, and they start working and you start paying monthly installments. Then, after some time has passed, the contractor says "I can't do this. It will be do expensive." And walks away, leaving you with a half-finished, still-inaccessible house, and out a bunch of money. They never even tell you how much it will cost to finish, and when you try to hire someone to finish the job they all keep telling you to do it yourself.


Come to think of it, this is the core message of Occupy that the media claim to find so elusive. We want those with all the money and power to do their jobs properly and not hurt anyone. It's not much to ask, most people do it every day. If you're a pension manager, manage pensions properly. If you're an investment banker, make good investments. If you're an elected representative, represent the people who elected you. If they were doing their jobs properly and weren't hurting us, it wouldn't even occur to anywhere near as many people to calculate what percentage of the wealth they control.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Random thoughts from an old bullying incident

With the recent Ontario election, I was reminded of one of my bullies. His claim to fame within the panthenon of my bullies was calling me a ho because, at the age of 12, I wasn't interested in dating yet. (It was doubly bizarre because I'd never heard the word "ho" and thought he was saying "hoe", which didn't make any sense in any universe.)

He sat in front of me in our homeroom classroom, where we had English, Math, and History classes, and he'd always turn around and harass me and mess with my stuff, stealing things and breaking things and writing on and spitting on my papers. So one day, I decided his actions should have consequences. I looked around for a weapon, and decided on my purple glue stick. Next time he started touching my stuff, I said "If you don't leave my stuff alone, I'll put glue on your shirt." He persisted in messing with my stuff, so I put glue on his shirt. He rather freaked out, and said that he'd tell his mother on me, and, since she was a teacher, I'd get in trouble.

As it happened, I knew his mother. She took over my Grade 2 class for a semester when our regular teacher went on maternity leave. I would have had no problem whatsoever explaining to her that her son repeatedly turned around and harassed me and messed with my stuff, and that I had clearly stated the consequences of continuing to do so. If he didn't want glue on his shirt, all he had to do was leave me alone. I figured that since she was a teacher, she'd get particularly mad at him for turning around and disturbing me in class when we were supposed to be working. I thought I might get in trouble with my own parents (which didn't bother me because I felt my actions were just), but I had no fear whatsoever of the prospect of explaining to a teacher the measures I'd taken to be left alone so I could do my class work.

(At this point, some of you are no doubt expecting me to say that this bully never bothered me again after I retaliated. Would be a nice plot resolution, but it didn't work out that way. He bullied me for the rest of the school year, after which we were never in the same class again.)

I have a number of thoughts arising from this incident, none of them conclusive:

1. How is it possible that a student could, on a regular basis, get away with turning completely around in his seat and bothering the person behind him during times when they were supposed to be working or listening? Turning around is visually conspicuous.

2. My bullies would always bully me any time they saw or thought that I had been speaking to my parents. When my parents tried to give me anti-bullying strategies, my bullies would say "Did your mommy tell you to say/do that?" I even got bullied for being seen with my parents out in public. In an environment like this, how does it even occur to a person immersed in bullying culture to invoke telling his mother?

3. The reason I thought it was a possibility I might get in trouble with my own parents was that grownups in those days seemed to have the attitude that just bugging someone didn't count as misbehaviour. I don't know if it was my own family or a broader social attitude of that time and place, but if, for example, my sister kept opening the door to my room and trying to come in even though I didn't want her to so eventually I shoved her out, I'd get in trouble for shoving her, but she wouldn't get in trouble for barging into my room. In retrospect, that's bizarre. In the real world, someone who keeps forcing their presence on someone else despite their protests at the very least gets a "WTF is wrong with you?"

4. The reason why I felt it was just to put glue on his shirt is a) it was proportionate to what he was doing to my things, and b) I gave him fair warning. It might not have been kind or ethical or virtuous or the kind of behaviour to which we should aspire, but I felt it was just. Sometimes I wish the rules of the real world worked this way - you give someone fair warning, and then you can take proportionate action or impose natural consequences. For example, if someone who's being harassed by paparazzi says "I do not consent to being photographed. If you take any pictures of me, I will disable your camera so you can't take any more pictures," and then they act accordingly, they'll be made out to be angry and unstable. But, really, that's natural consequences and a fair warning. Obviously I don't mean "Give me all your money or I'll shoot you," I mean more as self-defence, to get people to leave you alone. Which goes back to my previous point about lack of respect for simply wanting to be left alone.

5. One thing that made this particular kind of harassment especially annoying is I was trapped. If I faced forward and did my work like I was supposed to, he was in my face. The only way to escape him was to turn around (thus bothering someone else) and not do my work. This is why, of all the bullying I faced, the one that came from my sister was the worst - I couldn't escape her because we lived in the same house, and our parents kept making it so that we had to spend our free time trapped in the car together. In comparison, once when I was in high school, on a band concert day, this one guy kept following me around telling me how hot I looked, with enough skeeviness that he wasn't going to get anywhere. I was kind of worried because his brother was my ride home, and I didn't look forward to being trapped in a crowded car with him. But on the car ride home, he behaved himself. He didn't take up any more than his fair share of space and talked normally with everyone about subjects unrelated to how hot I looked. I gained enormous respect for him for that. He was skeevy when I could walk away, but put it away when I was trapped. No one ever taught, or even explicitly stated, that nuance - that it's no longer "just in good fun" (if you can make the argument that it ever was) when you can't walk away. I wonder if it would have helped?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Always Infinity

This post is a review of a feminine hygiene product. As such, it contains descriptions of menstruation. If you don't want to read that sort of thing, skip this post.

I recently received a sample of Always Infinity, with instructions to use it on a heavy flow day. Today was my first heavy flow day since I got the sample, so I gave it a try.

The first thing I noticed is how much less noticeable it is when I'm wearing it. It's more flexible and conforms more naturally to the curve of my underwear. I'd never consider my usual Always Ultra Thin as particularly noticeable when I wear it or as not conforming to the curve of my underwear, but Infinity does it better enough that a couple of times I found myself checking to make sure I did in fact put a pad in.

I also noticed that the blood in the pad looks browner and dryer than the same blood would in an Always Ultra Thin. I can't tell why this is happening, but it might be an issue for people who need to monitor the quality of their menstruation for health reasons.

I don't have enough data to comment on absorbency. Based on the one pad I've been wearing today, it appears to be about the same, maybe slightly greater. But I don't have an especially heavy flow when I'm on the pill - a heavy flow day for me is preferably 2 pads but I can get away with one. I'd have to try it over several cycles to get a better sense of its absorbency, and really it would be more informative to get that information from someone with a 12 pad a day flow.

The verdict: more comfortable, no drawbacks unless you need to monitor the quality of your menstruation. The difference between Ultra Thin and Infinity isn't enough to make me put aside my remaining jumbo pack of Ultra Thin and switch right over to Infinity, but it's enough to make me consider going straight for the Infinity next time I need to buy a new pack.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We are part of the 99%

The following picture was tweeted into my timeline. I don't know its origin, but I felt compelled to respond.

If you can't read it, there's a transcript below. As usual, any typoes are my own.

I am a college senior, about to graduate completely debt free.
I pay for all of my living expenses by working 30+ hours a week making barely above minimum wage. I chose a moderately priced, in-state public university & started saving $ for school at age 17.
I got decent grades in high school & received 2 scholarships which cover 90% of my tuition.
I currently have a 3.8 GPA
I live comfortably in a cheap apt., knowing I can't have everything I want. I don't eat out every day, or even once a month. I have no credit card, new car, iPad or smart phone - and I'm perfectly okay with that.
If I did have debt, I would not blame Wall St. or the government for my own bad decisions.
I live below my means to continue saving for the future.
I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my @$$ off for everything I have.
That's how it's supposed to work.
I am NOT the 99%, and whether or not you are is YOUR decision.

Greetings, anonymous picture person, I'm very pleased to meet you! It sounds like we have a lot in common! I also graduated from university debt-free. I also paid my way with low-wage jobs (although, after about five years in the workforce, I was able to pull my way up to 150% of minimum wage). I also saved money for university, although I started at the age of 8. I also earned scholarships with my mid-90s average. I'm glad you get to live comfortably in an apartment! I couldn't justify the luxury of an actual apartment, so I lived in a cheap single room in student housing where things would crawl out of walls and give me panic attacks. (This also meant I had to eat out if I wanted to share a meal with friends, because I didn't have a kitchen or the physical space for more than one person to eat.) I did have a credit card in university because I'm up to the simple task of paying it off in full every month, but if you can't handle that then I applaud your decision not to have one. Even a used car was an unnecessary luxury at the time (still is, in fact), and the other things on your list didn't exist then (although I still don't have them because I can't justify the expense of a data plan.) After I graduated, I was hired by the place where I did my internships on the basis of the excellent work I did for them, and have been happily employed there ever since, with my duties now including overseeing internships for people like you. I've been able to afford an actual apartment and, a few years later, a nice apartment, still living within my means.

Isn't it satisfying when you do what you're supposed to do and things work out like they're supposed to work out?

That's what Occupy is fighting for. A world where you do what you're supposed to do and things work out like they're supposed to work out. Where you can get over 30 hours a week of work. Where universities are moderately priced. Where you can go to university even if you didn't start saving until you were 17. Where good grades will get you scholarships that will pay the majority of your tuition. Where a student can afford a cheap apartment and a used car. Where five years of hard work and brains enough to win scholarships will get you more than barely over minimum wage. Where saving for the future is even an option.

The 1%, the rich and the powerful, fucked up the world's economy, wrote themselves bonus cheques that are orders of magnitude bigger than the likes of us who have to pay our way through school on scholarships and low wages will see in a lifetime, and are trying to make the rest of us, the 99% (which does include you, BTW - even with today's unemployment rates, scholarships and 30 hours a week don't put you in the richest 1%), pay for it by creating a world where it will be harder and harder to have things work out just by doing what you're supposed to do. They're trying to make there be fewer jobs, have them less well-compensated and less secure, and at the same time to reduce available public services. This means that it will be harder for you to get and keep your 30 hours and you'll get paid less for it, and at the same time your tuition will go up and your scholarships will go down.

Occupy is not about blaming Wall St. or the government for your bad decisions, it's about the things that you and I value - hard work and planning for the future - working out the way they're supposed to work.

You are part of the 99%. Being part of it is not your decision, unless you're powerful enough to unilaterally become part of the riches 1% AND ensure that everyone else stays poorer than you. But what you do with it is your decision.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do employers not have respect for basic work ethic?

A common job interview question is "Why do you want this job?" And the true answer, "Because it's a job," is not acceptable.

Based on what my parents and grandparents tell me about their employment history, it seems you used to be able to get a job on the basis that you need a job and the job in question is a job and you're capable of doing the job in question. Employers would hire their employees' kids in the summer solely on the basis that the kids needed summer jobs. They didn't need to convince the employer of why they wanted to shovel coke or pack meat, it was obvious that they needed to make money. Apparently they even used to have designated places where people who needed work and employers who needed day labourers would all go and match themselves up with each other. The employers would hire people simply because they were there and willing to work!

And yet, every job I've interviewed for, including fast food, has had a "Why do you want this job?" question.

When did this start happening? Why do they do it? It makes me wonder if today's employers don't have respect for basic work ethic, that they went and created a world where willingness to work to earn a living is not considered sufficient motivation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some post-election information

1. The report from Three Ontario Votes (which I've mentioned before) is now out. I'm disappointed they didn't do a full seat count for the AV model, but otherwise it's informative.

2. My traditional post-election test of the Hill & Knowlton Election Predictor: Using the actual popular vote as reported by CBC, Hill & Knowlton predicts Liberal 56, Conservative 31, NDP 20. Actual seat count: Liberal 53, Conservative 37, NDP 17.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The scariest thing I've read lately

The following is a quote from John Lanchester's I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. As usual, any typos are my own:

By June 2008, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA - the association of companies dealing in this stuff - was estimating the total size of the [derivatives] market as $54 trillion, close to the total GDP of the planet and many times more valuable than the total number of all the stocks and shares traded in the world.

That terrifies me, because derivatives are entirely artificial. They just made them up because they wanted new financial products. Meanwhile, the GDP of the planet is real. It's the money we make for doing our jobs, the money our employers make from selling the products and services we produce, the money we spend on our rent and groceries and cough syrup and haircuts. And yet, this entirely artificial thing that fucked up the global economy was close to being bigger than anything real!

And, since the derivatives market was many times more valuable than all the stocks and shares in the world, this meant that the portion of financial work that comes close to touching on reality was utterly marginalized in favour of this wholly artificial creation.

And, with it, they managed to fuck up the global economy.

How can those of us who have to live in reality, and make and buy and do real things, possibly feel safe?

What if some people are better at materialism than others?

Some people think that money, or accruing material objects, doesn't lead to happiness. My personal experience is that it my money and my material possessions do make me happy. There are a lot of opinions about this in the world, but most of them (including what I've blogged previously on the subject) are rather absolutist, in that they assume it applies to everyone the same way.

But what if it doesn't?

The first possibility that comes to mind is that different people gain different degrees of happiness from materialism. But sometimes I hear people saying materialism doesn't lead to happiness in the first person, i.e. describing how they would purchase material goods thinking it would make them happy, but it didn't.

I've never had that happen to me. How does that even happen? How do you not know that something isn't going to make you happy, and how does this happen repeatedly?

Which leads to the second possibility: what if some people are better at materialism than others? What if some of us are good at judging in advance what material possessions will make us happy, whereas others are just purchasing stuff willy-nilly or are easily deluded regarding what will make them happy?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

How does the aging population affect voter turnout numbers?

With the low voter turnout in last week's provincial election in the news, I find myself thinking of my grandmother.

My grandmother has been losing her faculties for some time, but between the last election and this one, she's being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and put in a nursing home. I don't know if she voted, and I don't know if there's any mechanism other than logistics to stop her from voting if she wants to. However, I do know that she's probably not competent to vote - she has enough memory problems that she simply cannot develop an informed political opinion - and I do know that she's most likely still on the voter's list at her old address, where she lived and received a voter card for every election for 60 years.

In calculating voter turnout, she counted as a no-show. But if she didn't vote, that isn't actually a problem.

As the population ages, we're going to have more and more people in my grandmother's situation. I wonder if this will be enough to affect overall voter turnout numbers?

What I have to thank Steve Jobs for

The time: early 80s. The place: the spare room in my parents' house. My father spent hours at the machine, staring lines and lines of green, hard-to-read words. I toddled up to see what was so interesting, and discovered that, even though the screen was boring, it had BUTTONS! So, of course, I tried to push the buttons.

In one of his better parenting decisions, rather than telling me not to push the buttons, my father decided to teach me which buttons to push. We started with a simple kiddie game called Bouncing Numbers. A number bounced around the screen, and I had to press the same number on the keyboard. To get to the game, I had to put a certain diskette into the disk drive, then type "RUN BOUNCING NUMBERS". So many letters, and it took a long time to find them all because the buttons with the letters on them weren't in any sensible order! But I figured it out and quickly became fluent in it. I learned how to run some other games, got into one of the programming books and started writing simple programs, and by the time I reached kindergarten I was confidently computer-literate.

Many people have written tributes to Steve Jobs in the past few days, most often singing the praises of Apple's 21st-century creations. But Apple's first inventions were some of the very first home computers ever. Bringing the computer into the home enabled me, and thousands of others like me, to become fluent computer users before we could tie our shoes. We'd then invite our friends over to play computer games, and, within a generation, computers evolved in popular consciousness from big scary geeky technology to something anyone can just sit down and figure out.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Voter's Resources

Since we just had a federal election in May, I'm not rewriting everything from scratch. The pertinent links are below. For how to use them, click on "How to Vote", "Where to Vote", and "How to Vote Strategically" below. As usual, this post will be updated until election day. If I've missed anything, please let me know in the comments.

Getting Started

Election day is October 6.

Voter information from Elections Ontario

My How to Vote
My Where to Vote
My How to Vote Strategically




CBC Vote Compass
Election Prediction Project
Hill and Knowlton Predictor
Riding-by-riding polls for the GTA


Another election on a beautiful day, and another provincial election nursing a virus (which has mutated from a sore throat to a runny nose today). I encountered many many doggies today and got a lot of petting in, including my next-door neighbour's dog for the whole elevator wait and ride. Hopefully that's enough good luck.

I didn't get a voter's card this year and had to wait in a bit of a line to register (a process that was a bit slower than I recall) but it got done in under half an hour with no particular difficulties. I voted in a seniors' residence instead of a school this time. Some of the residents were milling around outside watching all the comings and goings, and I believe some of them were working at the polling station. Nice friendly community-like chat waiting in line, dogs and children got squeed at, and the whole process took under half an hour.

Now I'm at home to nurse my cold and a glass of wine, and watch results.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Complaints about vitaminwater

Given the sudden dearth of Fruitopia in my environs, I decided to try the flavour of vitaminwater that looked like it was indicated for fighting a cold ("defense" it's called, complete with USian spelling.)

1. The flavour said raspberry-apple. It didn't taste like raspberry, or apple, or fake raspberry, or fake apple. It tasted like fake cranberry. If I wanted that, I'd get cranberry juice.

2. The nutrients featured prominently on the label were vitamin C and zinc. However, on reading the fine print, I noticed these were the last two of the medicinal ingredients, behind a bunch of B vitamins (which, while important nutrients, are not what I'm after when I'm fighting a virus).

3. It contains 90 mg of vitamin C and 3.75 mg of zinc. In contrast, my vitamin C supplements contain 500 mg, and my zinc lozenges contain 35 mg (plus 50 mg of vitamin C).

I suppose I should have read the label in detail before I bought it, but I'm used to things sold medicinally (and this is labelled medicinally, with medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients rather than a nutrition box) containing significant amounts of the nutrients they're meant to supplement. In any case, I resent actual foodstuff (i.e. fruit juice) being taken off the shelves in favour something that's less food-like, less nutritious, less effective, and less yummy. I don't mind fake food in and of itself, but I don't want it displacing real food!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Where has all the fruit punch gone?

Normally, I drink water during the day and with meals. However, I'm currently nursing a sore throat (likely viral), so I find myself wanting juice.

Citrus juices are on my no list for GERD, so I decided I'd drink fruit punch. At home I just mixed up a jug of Minute Maid fruit punch from concentrate (which has been my default juice since childhood), and at work I figured I'd just buy a couple of single-serving bottles of the same stuff or its Fruitopia equivalent.

But they don't sell it anywhere. Cafeteria, food court, drugstores, convenience stores, the juice aisle in the grocery store - no one has single-serving bottles of fruit punch, or in fact any non-citrus non-cranberry fruit juice.

They sell orange juice, lemonade, cranberry juice (which I'm not terribly fond of and, at least in the forms being sold in single-serving bottles, does not have significant amounts of vitamin C), and a bunch of sports drinks and vitamin water concoctions.

But I don't want fortified flavoured water when I'm sick, I want actual fruit juice! The sweetness is what soothes my throat and makes it go down easier than water.

Last time I was sick in a way that made me want juice, you could get a few different kinds of Fruitopia everywhere. Now you can't. It seems to have all been replaced with vitamin water. I already have vitamins and water in my arsenal, what I need is juice. But, somehow, it's been discontinued.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Things They Should Invent: central repository of research ideas

As I've blogged about before, one thing I really enjoy about the workplace as opposed to academia is that I don't have to come up with my own ideas for what to work on. All my major projects, even in undergrad, were "think of a topic and do a project on it," and I could never think of a good topic or tell what kind of topic would produce a good project. In the workplace, I simply translate what I'm assigned. This is one of the reasons why I haven't done a graduate degree - the idea of having to think up a thesis topic (and probably project topics for the coursework) puts me off now that I've become accustomed to a world where I simply do what I'm told.

However, I often come up with ideas for research in other fields.

Surely I'm not the only person in the world who has trouble thinking of something suitable to research. And surely I'm not the only person in the world who occasionally thinks "Hey, someone should do a study on that!"

So why not put the two together?

We need one single central website where people can post any research ideas they come up with, and would-be researchers can look for good ideas. The ideas could be random things that occur to you, or they could be information you want for which no research has been conducted (for example, if you'd like clinical testing conducted on a natural remedy you're considering). Prospective researchers could use ideas or use them as a jumping-off point for their own ideas. Researchers who do use ideas could mark them as such, thus drawing attention to their research. Users could also vote for other ideas, so the ideas that more people like get a more prominent place on the page. Perhaps this demand for the research could even be a factor in helping secure research grants?