Monday, January 31, 2011

What if non-specialist teachers taught all mandatory courses?

My high school history teacher passed away recently. I think he was a good teacher, so while trying to think of something to write in his obit's guestbook I was trying to think of why I think he's a good teacher. And what I came up with is he got the material into my head. History was neither my favourite nor my least favourite subject. I don't have any particular passion for it, and I only took the required course. But this teacher easily and painlessly got me to a mindset where, even 15 years later, the material that is relevant to whatever I'm doing or thinking about is there in my head. When we were talking about a coalition government last year, I could name-check King-Byng and modify a well-known historical quote to come up with coalition if necessary but not necessarily coalition. I knew enough about the Upper Canada Revolution that I groked and could banter with @RebelMayor. I know what the Boer War was and how Canada got caught up in it. I know why we have Catholic schools, and I know why so many of my co-workers are ex-Catholic. I can name-check all the major characters and plot points from both world wars. I know what a Bennett buggy is and what the On-to-Ottawa Trek was. I don't know everything about everything, but I have a solid grounding and know where I need to do more research. While this teacher must have had a passion for history, it didn't permeate his work - which was a good thing! In his classroom, we could simply learn the material without being expected to pour our whole heart and soul into it, and it stuck.

In comparison, my Grade 12 English teacher had a passion for literature, and that made me detest the subject matter. He loved comparing and analyzing and dissecting, and I simply don't care that much any more once the story is over. Even the few glimmers of interest that arose naturally were promptly extinguished, smothered by his constant demand. I found a Shakespearian sonnet that spoke to me, and got marked down in my analysis of it for not drawing religious parallels. I memorized and understood Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, and lost marks for not being able to write it out with the exact same punctuation. I thought Newspeak was kind of cool and was in a headspace where I could have made a rudimentary attempt at drawing parallels with the language choices of current politicians, but we had to have a fricking debate about it in front of the whole class! Overall, we studied about half a dozen major works from generally-accepted Western literary cannon (plus poetry and ISU), learned the whole hubris-hamartia-downfall thing, and I found a few things that piqued my interest. That should have been enough for a required course, but this teacher put me right off with assignments that simply didn't work out unless you had the level of passion for the subject matter that he had and I didn't.

I've had this happen in other subject areas too. Teachers who are passionate about subjects I'm indifferent about smother any sparks of interest I might have developed, whereas teachers who are more blasé make subjects I wouldn't normally care about seem more approachable without hindering any existing interest.

So, to address this, what if all required courses in school were taught by non-specialist teachers? They didn't study the subjects in university, they don't have any particular passion for them, but they learned them in high school just like everyone else and now have to refamiliarize themselves in order to teach them. So they understand what it's like to struggle with the subject matter or to have to figure it out despite a lack of enthusiasm, and can get the basics into everyone's brains. Students who then find the subject particularly interesting can go on to study it in elective courses taught by specialist teachers who also have a passion for the subject matter, while students who don't particularly care can absorb the basics without having the subject ruined by a teacher's enthusiasm for fussy and finicky aspects of the subject matter.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My subconscious is smarter than me

In the dream I was having just before I woke up, I needed to exchange cell phone numbers with a strange man. I didn't like him, he didn't like me, but we would be needing to make some logistical arrangements later. So he reads off his cell number for me: "Four one six, five nine four, **mumble mumble mumble mumble**"

"I'm sorry," I reply, "I didn't catch those last four numbers."

With facial expressions, body language, and intonation that all suggest he is reading off the numbers slowly and clearly, he once again mutters something unintelligible.

I'm feeling kind of embarrassed now, but we do have to get this done, so I say "I'm sorry, I still didn't catch that. I don't know what's wrong with me. Maybe if you just type it into my phone yourself..."

"Oh, don't worry," he says "I was just testing to make sure you aren't a spy."

It turns out he thought I might be a spy from the country that he perceived to be his country's enemy, so he was casually reading off the numbers in the mother tongue of the country he thought I might be spying for to see if I understood.

That's brilliant! It wasn't his own mother tongue, it was the mother tongue of the enemy country. So someone from that country might have effortlessly understood the numbers and typed them in without even realizing it. I never would have thought of that! I might have thought of using my own mother tongue, but I never would have come up with using the enemy country's mother tongue.

Except that I did think of that. In my subconscious, because this was a dream I had! Spooky!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Talking to your doctor

I've blogged before about how I question the conventional wisdom that we need user fees and such for medical services because people are apparently going to the doctor for foolish things.

But then I see things like this:

The new study shows, however, that there are significant gaps in preventive care.

Only two in five people over the age of 45 reported having talked to a health professional about what they could do to improve their health or prevent illness (measures like quitting smoking, increasing exercise or limiting alcohol consumption).

Why on earth would I need to talk to my doctor about that? I already know I shouldn't smoke, should exercise more, and should probably drink less.

As I also think I've mentioned before, I've been watching my sodium intake after noticing that my body reacts negatively when I eat too much high-sodium foods. When I've mentioned this IRL, people of older generations have asked me "Did your doctor tell you to cut back on the sodium?" No, I figured it out myself. Why would I need a doctor to tell me a readily observable correlation?

Even last time I had a bad cold (lasted the better part of a week, took a day and a half off work), elders asked me if I'd been to a doctor. Why would I go to a doctor when a good night's sleep and drinking plenty of juice is slowly but surely doing the job?

Do people who are older than me have less medical self-knowledge or something? Shouldn't they have more, what with all their life experience and growing up in an era where they had to pay to go to the doctor?

If my own observations here do end up being indicative of a larger pattern, maybe medical costs will drop and our health system will become more sustainable in the long term, as the percentage of the population able to work out their own preventive and self-care increases.

Monday, January 24, 2011


1. In the news: they might change the law to make it easier to perform a citizen's arrest. Missing from all the coverage I've seen: how do you do a citizen's arrest anyway? I haven't the slightest idea, but all the coverage seems to be assuming that you already know how.

2. Via Slap:

The United States effected new regulations on Tuesday that finally allow gay people to have the hospital visitation rights as straight partners.

Until Tuesday, hospitals participating in the Medicare and Medicade federal programs were free to deny hospital visitation rights to gay couples because they weren’t considered family members. With the new regulations, patients are allowed to designate whomever they choose as visitors.

But this raises a big question that I haven't seen anyone mention among all the gaiety: why weren't patients allowed to choose their own visitors in the first place??? What if you want to see your best friend? What if you don't want to be alone with your abusive spouse who put you in the hospital in the first place? What if your personal hero unexpectedly drops by? How on earth could people smart enough to become medical professionals and experienced enough to rise to a level where they make policy ever think such a blind blanket policy is appropriate?

3. Apparently some kids have been throwing things and yelling homophobic slurs at people in the gaybourhood. The first thought that enters my mind: they should be banishèd. In the Shakespearean sense. If they're going to bring that particular flavour of immature closed-mindedness to the places where everyone goes to make it Get Better, they should be forced to get out of our space and go live out their adolescence in a more closed-minded place.

Of course, that isn't an appropriate reaction on my part. I'm an adult and they're not, so it's my duty to be able to understand why they're acting this way and craft an effective and compassionate response that enables them to continue enjoying the same gaybourhood privileges as everyone else while convincing them to stop ruining it for others. Two of my core values are in there: noblesse oblige by the party with more agency towards the party with less agency, and working towards making it possible for everyone to enjoy what privileges I enjoy.

But I can't do it. My brain won't bend that way. I understand intellectually that it should, but it doesn't. And the reason why my brain won't bend that way is it's still recovering from the damage inflicted by my own bullies. And so the cycle continues...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is Web 2.0 making information less accessible?

I recently learned that an excerpt from an upcoming book I'm looking forward to is only available through an iphone app. Despite the fact that it's promotional material trying to make me want to buy the book, it isn't on the internet anywhere. And because it's specifically an iphone app, people who don't have an iphone, ipad, or ipod touch can't get it at all. (I tried installing the app on my ipod touch, but it turns out the preview is available only the US, which is a whole nother rant.)

When Eddie Izzard first started his last US tour in 2008, I could do a google blog search the day after each show and find multiple reviews of each gig, or at least what he was wearing and which wikipedia entry he looked up. By the time he got to Canada in 2010, internet trends had moved away from blogs more towards Facebook and Twitter, so you couldn't necessarily find comments on any given show. They were all buried in people's Facebook walls, ungoogleable to the outside world. Not the most important thing in the world, obviously, but it was information I was looking for and could no longer find.

Blogger blogs, like mine, are very googleable. As a result, I get a lot of hits from people googling about things like the difference between La Senza and Victoria's Secret bras or how I connected my computer to my monitor. These things are helpful to people, and they wouldn't be able to find them and benefit from what I've learned if I'd posted my discoveries on a Facebook wall or Twitter feed instead.

One of the most egregious misuses of Facebook is promotional pages (either commercial or activism) that require you to join or "like" them (or whatever they're calling it now) to access the content. Apart from its inherent ridiculousness (if you don't let me see the information about why your group is of interest to me, I'm never going to join it), it renders information completely inaccessible (and ungoogleable) to casual passers-by, especially as more and more organizations move towards Facebook as their primary/only web presence. On top of that, my employer (and a number of others, I understand) blocks access to Facebook from office computers. So if I'm translating about an organization and I need information about them, I can't get at it.

I totally understand why you might want to keep your online presence limited to a select group of people, but I'm worried that as more user-created information is put on friends-locked walls or in ungoogleable apps, we might be not only losing access to existing information, but losing the ability to determine what information exists. Even though Google can't access all existing information, it can almost always confirm that the information exists somewhere I just can't get at straight through the internet. For example, the existence of academic papers has been googleable every time I've looked, even if I have to go through a library to get them. What if we lose this ability?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kudos to Sesame Street!

Kudos to Sesame Street for a completely non-triggering depiction of a spider! The video is here (not embedding in case there are people who trigger more easily than I do), showing Jim Parsons teaching the audience the meaning of the word "arachnid" with the assistance of a blue muppet spider.

I don't know if this is by design or just a happy coincidence, but nearly everything that triggers visceral fear has been eliminated. It doesn't descend from the ceiling, it walks on from the side. And it doesn't walk on with its eight legs (thus creating that terrifying motion), it enters nondescriptly on invisible legs as most muppets do, with the exact same movement you'd find on Grover or Kermit. It has two eyes and a toothless mouth arranged on as human a face as you'll ever find on a muppet. It's blue. If it weren't for the eight (motionless) legs on its back, it could be a ladybug. Or a hunchbacked anything muppet. I had a brief demi-second of squick when Jim Parsons touched it (because EWW! He TOUCHED IT!). But then the blue guy said "You kind of freak me out" and that made me laugh and the squick was gone. It was far better executed than I'd have thought anything involving an arachnid could possibly be.

There is a parenting theory wherein, to prevent children from developing a fear of creepy crawlies, you talk to them about how good and interesting they are and try not to show any fear yourself. During the brief time between when my parents started doing this and when I had my first phobia incident (story is #3 here), it seemed kind of phony and artificial, as though they knew something and weren't telling me. But Sesame Street actually achieves this, by doing something that's completely natural within the Sesame Street universe and portrays the spider as harmless and friendly (and this despite the fact that Jim's first reaction is to scream), without using any imagery or elements that would trigger a congenital phobia like mine.

As an easily-triggered arachnophobic, I appreciate how incredibly difficult a balance this is and I wouldn't have thought it possible to do well, so kudos to Sesame Street for pulling it off!

(Props to @BroadwayProfe for knowing me well enough to know I'd appreciate this despite the subject matter, and for presenting it carefully enough that I could make an informed decision to watch and take precautions to avoid triggering.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patriarchy: ur doin it wrong

This train of thought started with something I heard years ago about people living under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Apparently women weren't allowed to leave the house unaccompanied by a male relative. My first thought is this has to be inconvenient for the men too, because the women can't even go to the market or do errands without a chaperone. This didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If I had a spouse whom I saw as subservient to me, I'd totally be making them do all the errands!

Then, several years after I learned this, I was watching Big Love. Nikki (the most fundamentalist of the wives) thinks its inappropriate for her sister-wives to have jobs, on the basis that they should be taking care of the family. But that would leave Bill (the husband) with at least 10 (maybe more, depending on the season) mouths to feed single-handedly. And he's an entrepreneur! Surely it's of value for at least one of the wives to keep herself employable (as Barb, the first wife, does, being a substitute teacher) in case the business fails!

Then I saw this article on an evangelical movement where daughters are expected to stay in their parents' home until marriage and basically serve as additional homemakers rather than going to school or having a job. But how many homemakers do you need? I know that in my own family, if I thought I should be living with and serving my parents, I would be far more useful to them by bringing home my salary than by additional homemaking. Even if they had put me through university, they would have recouped their investment quickly.

They wouldn't have to completely subvert their dogma to make these changes either. The husband/father could still retain his role as head of household and decide who will work in the home and who will work outside the home, dictate or veto specific career paths, etc. It's like the men who created these patriarchies are really excessively disproportionately insecure in their dogma and their own place within that dogma. It surprises me these cultures can continue to exist for so long despite this insecurity - and it surprises me that this insecurity persists despite the longevity of the cultures.

Things They Should Invent: client-directed bank account flags

Being childfree with poor people skills and centenarian ancestors, I'm operating the assumption that I won't have anyone to help me in the last couple of decades of my life. So I've been watching how my parents are helping my grandmothers, and trying to figure out how I will do those things independently in my old age, even if I'm losing my faculties at the time.

One of the things my parents help my grandparents with is managing their money, so I've been thinking about how I could make my money manage itself as I deteriorate mentally. It would be easy enough to set up automatic deposits and payments, ensuring that I don't have to remember to pay bills and don't get myself evicted through my own forgetfulness. But how can I keep myself from spending too much money?

Currently, I don't use a tight budget where I'm only allowed to spend $X on clothes and $Y on food etc. My system is I'm allowed to spend money on whatever I want, but the balance of my primary account has to stay within a certain range. If it goes below the bottom threshold, I have to stop spending on everything but food and immediate necessities (and budget carefully on those) until it goes back up into the acceptable range. This system works well for me.

What I'd like to be able to set up to duplicate this when I'm older is have the bank's computer alert me when my account balance goes below the bottom threshold. Using today's technology as a general example, it could be a smartphone app. You get an alert when your balance gets too low, and maybe a little red light glows on your phone to remind you. If you're spending money uncharacteristically, something could pop up pointing out why this is uncharacteristic and asking if you're sure. (For example, if you're grocery shopping today even though you did a full grocery shop yesterday, this system would catch it.)

This would all be completely optional, of course. The nature and thresholds of the alerts would be entirely of each person's own choosing (and maybe they could have some presets for people who are already unable to make sensible choices for themselves.) The responses to crossing the threshold could also be customized: maybe it just alerts you, maybe it prevents you from spending that money for 24 hours, maybe it alerts your caregiver, maybe it makes you talk to a bank representative.

Beyond the problem of people who are losing their faculties, this could also be useful for people who have trouble with financial self-discipline. For some people, a little glowing light reminding them that they're running low might be enough to stop them from making that impulse purchase.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Money for Nothing

1. I have never knowingly heard Dire Straits played on the radio in my life.

2. The version of Money for Nothing I have (origin unknown - acquired in university, back when it was briefly trendy for people to host internal FTP servers to share all their music and movies with everyone else in res) doesn't contain the offending verse, so I didn't know until just a day or two ago that this song even contained a slur.

3. I have no objection to not censoring individual words or not censoring songs based on individuals words. However, if they are going to censor based on individual words, I think slurs should be censored. I'm far more offended by slurs than by the word "fuck". I was shocked that the radio edit of Cee-Lo's Fuck You still contained the N word. Yes, I'm aware of the cultural conventions surrounding use of that word, but they changed the lyrics to circumlocute a word I use all the time while keeping a word I would never use. That doesn't seem right.

4. I've had this fricking song on my head for like 3 days straight! Get it out!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some responses to the Toronto Star Public Editor survey

I've been doing the Toronto Star Public Editor survey, and for a couple of questions my answers go far beyond the scope of the yes/no provided.

10. In preparation for the G20 summit in Toronto, the Star produces a series of profiles and “Portraits of Leaders.” Do you publish this photo of U.S. President Barack Obama taken in 1980 when he was a college student in Los Angeles?

The issue is not this one photo itself, the issue is the broader context of the series as a whole. All the other photos in the series are recent, if not current. They were all taken at times when the subjects either were or could reasonably predict that they might soon be leaders of countries. It's not fair to pick on only one of the subjects by publishing a picture of him being goofy 30 years ago. Either use current photos for all, or old photos for all, or at the very least old photos for a reasonable selection.

12. A judge releases graphic photos shown in open court of convicted “sadosexual serial killer” Russell Williams. Do you publish this disturbing photo on Page 1 alongside a photo of Williams in full military uniform?

If you didn't want to click on the "graphic photos" link, it's a photo of Williams wearing lingerie belonging to one of his victims.

It's very easy to reduce this question to "Is a picture of a hairy man in pink panties suitable for a family newspaper?" But that's missing the point. The point is that Williams is a murderer.

A picture of a hairy main in pink panties is shocking, memorable, and distracting. And so, our first thought when we hear the name Russell Williams is of a hairy main in pink panties. But being a hairy man in pink panties is a far lesser sin than murder (and, frankly, if he'd man up and buy his own panties it wouldn't be a sin at all!) So this results in Williams being thought of general public sentiment as something far better than he actually is.

Another factor sometimes mentioned in deciding whether to print this picture is the "Mommy, what's that?" factor. In other words, it's really awkward for parents to have to explain to their kids what that man's doing wearing pink panties. There are arguments for and against using this when deciding whether something is appropriate for a newspaper, but, regardless, we have to think not just of the kid's question but of the parent's answer. In this particular case, it would be very very easy for a parent caught off-guard to answer "He's a bad man." And he is a bad man. That's why he's in the newspaper. In fact, the picture of him wearing the pink panties is a picture of him in the process of being a bad man - not because he's wearing panties, but because he's wearing someone else's panties without her permission. Even grown adults who are unfamiliar with the circumstances under which a man might harmlessly wear panties and repulsed by the idea of a man wearing panties are also likely to come away with the impression that panty-wearing = bad man. A causal relationship rather than a single instance of correlation.

So not only does this picture give an initial, shocking, and memorable impression that Williams is a mere panty-wearer as opposed to a murderer, it also helps promote or reinforce the idea that panty-wearing is a sign, cause, or symptom of being a bad man. It makes Williams look less bad while making innocent panty-wearing men look more bad.

This story received quite a lot of column-inches (if I remember correctly, it had a full double-page inside spread on more than one day), so I wouldn't necessarily object to them printing this picture, alongside others, on an inside page. However, out of respect for the seriousness of murder, it doesn't belong on the front page above the fold catching the eye of everyone who walks past a newsstand. They need to give people a chance to think "OMG, murder!" before they get distracted by the things like whether he went to the trouble of tucking or just has a very small penis.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Things They Should Invent: political system wherein you only have to express your opinion once for it to count

This post was inspired by this development.

A lot of activism is repeating the same message over and over and over again. You have to sign petitions and write letters to the editor and attend rallies and contact your elected representatives and repeat the same thing over and over and over.

That's inefficient. We need a system where you express your opinion once to the pertinent people, and that's sufficient. And expressing your opinion more than once gains no further reward, and perhaps even annoys people and/or is detrimental to the credibility of your cause.

Case in point: I wrote a cogent and persuasive email to the appropriate elected representatives about the importance of Transit City to me personally and to our city as a whole. But now there are people convinced that I don't really care about Transit City because I didn't attend this one rally that I didn't know was a rally, or because I sent an email instead of making phone calls, or because I didn't skip work and attend some city meeting. And meanwhile I've been spending the past month thinking constantly about what I can do to convince the powers that be that Transit City is important.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if that one email was literally all I could do, and the powers that be would give it precisely my share of all due consideration no matter how much noise the other people make? Then my attendance at the rally would be redundant (maybe we wouldn't need to go to all the trouble to have rallies at all!) and I could have spent the past month putting my thoughts and energy into a wide range of other things, all of which could also be knocked off with a single well-composed email. Politicos' offices would run more smoothly, people would feel more engaged in the political process, people could inform themselves about and commit effort to a wider range of issues, and the world would be a better, more informed, less stressful place.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Things I learn from my elders

One of the elders in my life is losing her faculties, and one of the consequences is that she literally cannot learn new skills. Existing skills are still more or less present, but acquiring new skills has become basically impossible.

This struck me, because all the time I've known her she's always had the attitude that she's too old to learn anything new. And now she actually is. Food for thought for if I ever find myself falling into those thought patterns.

I keep thinking of solutions to the problems of aging that would require a computer and/or the internet. It would provide entertainment and socializing, automated reminders could be set up to compensate for lapsing memory, it would make it possible to read (by enlarging text size) as eyesight fails - some days it sounds like panacea! But we can't use them because she never became comfortable with using a computer and never learned to use the internet. And now she literally cannot learn.

I'd strongly recommend to anyone who has an elder in their life who isn't on the internet to get them there now, so they will have internalized the skills already by the time they actually need them the most.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Why are mail carriers responsible for finding and training their own replacements?

When the Canada Post carrier in one neighbourhood in Drumheller, Alta., went on vacation a week or so before Christmas, so did the mail.

That's meant for many residents there have been no bills, no cheques, no Christmas presents or even deliveries of medication for as long as three weeks.

Teresa Williams of Canada Post says it's the carrier's responsibility to find and train a replacement, but that didn't happen in this case.

WTF is the logic in that?

Everywhere I've ever worked, the employer has been ultimately responsible for replacing people who are out sick or on vacation by having an existing employee fill in. And I've never worked anywhere nearly as large as Canada Post! Why aren't they equipped to do this?

Apart from the fact that this is unfair to the employees, it's unacceptable as a public service! Canada Post is a large organization - their organization says they have 60,000 employees. Surely we, as customers and citizens, should enjoy the benefits of having our postal services provided by a large organization. And one of the benefits of a large organization is that they have a lot of people working for them, and are equipped to recruit and train more people. If one person is away, there are other trained and qualified people to fill in. If there aren't enough people, they can hire and train more. When real life affects the employees like real life does, the customers don't feel the difference. Not only are there replacements available, but they are already trained in the job and familiar with the organization's standards and requirements, rather than just being whomever the absent worker could muster up from their personal circle at the last minute.

Even the cheapest, most lowbrow companies you can think of make management or corporate responsible for recruiting and training and replacing employees who are absent. Fast food restaurants do it. Discount retailers do it. Why won't Canada Post give Canadians this most basic aspect of customer service that comes with being a large organization?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Things They Should Invent: link the gambling self-exclusion list to credit and debit cards

A Toronto Star article on how the OLG self-exclusion list isn't working includes the story of how a guy on the self-exclusion list still manages to get Visa cash advances at a casino.

Solution: when people join the self-exclusion list, they can provide their credit and debit card numbers, and the casinos can set up something so that those numbers get flagged in the system. Maybe they could even make it so the computer simply will not permit cashiers or ATMs to dispense money to those cards on casino property.

The obvious argument against this is privacy, but the exclusion list is already voluntary, so they could easily make this part voluntary too. And maybe they could even come up with a way to do it without informing the banks and credit card companies so as not to hurt people's credit scores any more than they're already being hurt by the financial fall-out of problem gambling.

Things They Should Invent: all public meetings must be justified or obsoleted

I received an email inviting me to a community meeting regarding a political issue I'm interested in. Unfortunately, it didn't say anything about why there was a community meeting. Is there new information that they can't post on the internet for some reason? Are they trying to physically carry out a specific action? They didn't say. They got my email (and, I assume, everyone else's that they copied on this) in the first place through a piece of slacktivism, so why would they think I'd put on make-up and pants and go somewhere at a set time without some hint of why this needs to be in person?

I also saw a tweet recently by someone who was attending a public meeting, and said that they wished more people could be there so they could find out all this information. But why should you have to be there to find out the information? Why can't they just post it on the internet?

It isn't always necessary for people to be in a specific place at a specific time for consultation or information dissemination or activism to happen. Often an email or a website will do the job. Instead of constantly holding public meetings, they should think critically about how much of this can be achieved online. And, conversely, if they do in fact need people to be present in person, they need to specify why.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Things They Should Invent: leave elevator doors open when parked

I'm sure you've had this happen at some point in your life: you press the elevator call button and an elevator opens right away. It was already waiting there on your floor.

So why were the doors closed?

The way elevators seem to work is they take everyone to their desired floor then either stop where they are or return to lobby level depending on the building. Then they close their doors, and you have to press the call button to open them again.

That takes up some energy, doesn't it? It takes some energy to close the elevator doors, it takes some energy to work the call button, and it takes some energy to open the elevator doors again. Not much, but some.

In the building where I work, I often see people getting out of an elevator as I approach the elevator lobby, but I can't make it there before the doors close. So I go back and press the call button, and then the same elevator opens again. Not only did it waste energy by closing, calling, and re-opening, but I had to rush past the call button in my attempt to make the elevator, then go back to the call button to make the doors open again. This is practically effortless for me, but it would be rather difficult and frustrating for people who are elderly and/or have reduced mobility, for whom crossing the elevator lobby takes a non-negligible amount of time and who might not be spry enough to make it from the call button back to the elevator doors before the doors close.

Why not make it easier for everyone and save a small amount of energy by leaving the doors open?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Did Don Cherry and the Canadian Forces put all Canadians at risk?

One of the benefits of having a military is that it makes it possible to be a civilian. The people with the uniforms and ranks and guns are the designated combatants in our society, which gives the rest of us the privilege of being designated non-combatants. In any system of prioritization or strategy, this makes us a lesser risk and threat and a less valuable target than combatants, because the enemy has no reason to believe that we as individuals will cause harm to them. Of course if they just want to kill people they're going to kill whoever's easiest to kill, but if they're thinking about efficiency or strategy they'll prioritize the people with the uniforms and weapons first, because the combatants are the ones with the training and equipment and mandate to shoot at the enemy. The rest of us are just walking around living life.

Don Cherry is a civilian. He is also 76 years old, a television personality, and a flamboyant dresser. All of these characteristics would normally mark him as a non-combatant. However, the moment he fired an actual weapon at actual people, he became a combatant. Which means that it is now completely logical for the enemy to conclude that any civilian who appears to be at least as combat-ready as Don Cherry is now a combatant.

Shawn Micallef tweeted that if Don Cherry gets to shoot a weapon, so should Anne Murray or Joni Mitchell. But it would actually be completely logical at this point for the enemy to assume that any visiting celebrities will shoot at them. Apparently it's part of the tour now! Realistically, if some of your compatriots had just been shot at by Don Cherry, why wouldn't you assume that Rick Mercer or Feist would shoot at you? And why not the other civilians on the base, like journalists and Tim Hortons employees and medical personnel? This one act of foolishness has made all civilians viable defensive targets.

On top of all this, think about how Canada got into Afghanistan in the first place. Because people who were from Afghanistan or supported by other people who were from or in Afghanistan attacked the US (i.e. one of our allies). It wasn't Afghanistan itself, it was rogue civilians affiliated or associated with or located in Afghanistan. And on this basis, our military has been occupying their country for 10 years. Our rogue civilian was clearly aided and abetted by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Forces. He was given permission to fire this weapon by military officials. The Minister of Defence was present. And, once back in Canada, he returned to his job with a Crown corporation. It really looks to me like Afghanistan, or the Taliban, or any allies thereof, could use this incident to justify any military attack on or occupation of Canada on the exact same basis that justifies our presence there.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Excellent customer service from Future Shop

I thought there was a technical problem with my video adapter (that might not have been true, but that's another blog post for after I've confirmed that my fix worked), so I took it back to Future Shop in the hope of exchanging it. I had the packaging and the receipt, but it had been opened and used. Fortunately, they allowed a quick, easy, no-fuss exchange. No interrogation, no collecting personal information, in and out in just a couple of minutes.

Second problem: when getting a replacement off the shelf, I accidentally grabbed the wrong item - I grabbed the thing next to what I needed, which looked similar but was completely useless. So I went back to the store and the same lady who'd helped me before let me swap it for the one I actually needed, again with no trouble whatsoever.

I appreciate the quick and easy exchange in the first place, but I also really appreciate them allowing the second exchange even though it was due entirely to my own stupidity. The second time I was walking around the store in the compromising position of having a packaged product in my purse with a receipt that didn't match it, and I didn't get any trouble for it whatsoever. It would have been within reasonable store policy to not take it back because it was opened and used, or to not let me swap the second one because it was entirely my own error, or to even get me in trouble for having the wrong adapter that didn't match my receipt in my purse. But instead they solved all my problems quickly and easily with no fuss. That makes me feel safe and makes me more inclined to shop there again.