Sunday, December 30, 2012

Household hint: freeze leftover sauce in ice cube trays

With my GERD diagnosis, I had to cut back on my tomato sauce intake.  Pre-GERD, I routinely had pasta with tomato sauce (about half a cup) for breakfast every morning. Post-GERD, I have a small bowl of pasta a couple of times a month with a small amount of tomato sauce (about a tablespoon) mixed in real good, which, with judicious cheese ratios, is almost as good flavour-wise as slathering half a cup on top.  Who knew?

But I quickly discovered a new problem: my tomato sauce kept going bad before I use it all up.  Even though I was putting it in the coldest part of the fridge, it kept going moldy after only a few uses, with maybe 3/4 of a jar left.

After some trial and error, I discovered the solution: freeze it in ice cube trays, then put all the frozen cubes in a tupperware in the freezer for storage.  I got this kind of ice cube tray, because the bottoms are flexible so you can just pop each cube out rather than having to twist the tray (which is more difficult when the substance in it is denser than water).  The ice cubes made by this tray are, conveniently, one teaspoon in volume, which is useful if you ever need to measure how much sauce you're using.

You can thaw it either by taking a couple of cubes out and just letting them thaw, with a quick zap in the microwave (supervise carefully if you're doing very small quantities), or by tossing it in with your cooking.  It takes a bit of stirring to get the texture right, but it stands up.

Once I started doing this, I realized it also solves my Hollandaise problem. I like Eggs Florentine as an occasional treat, but I only need a small quantity of Hollandaise sauce and always have a bunch left over.  Then I'm frantically trying to think of things to do with Hollandaise before it all goes bad. Next time, I'm just going to freeze is and then thaw a cube whenever the mood strikes.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My childhood home

One of the fantastic characteristics of my friendship with Poodle is that it withstands neglect.  From time to time, one or both of us will get caught up in our careers or projects or fandoms or the business of everyday life, and fail to do the normal everyday friend stuff that sustains a friendship.

But the friendship is still always there.  If, after a period of neglect, one of us needs a ride or tech support or fashion advice or non-English proofreading or to be wingmanned to Eddie Izzard, the other's response is always "Of course! Let's make that happen!  And how have you been, anyway?"  Then we address the issue at hand and catch up on everything else without any resentment or animosity about the period of neglect.

I have a similar relationship with the house where I grew up.   I don't go there often, but, when I do, it's always right there for me.  My room is still my room.  Everything is right where I can find it.  It's a constant that has been present for literally my entire life, and I've always been able to rely on it, even when I don't have any immediate need for it.

My parents are planning to sell their house at some point in the next year, and it breaks my heart.  This place that has always been there for me will no longer be there for me.  The room that has always been mine will no longer be mine. They bought this house for me, in a way.  They were living in a very small house and were pregnant with me, so they bought a bigger one to raise kids in.  We were the first ones to live there.  It hasn't just always been ours, it's only ever been ours. My room has only ever been my mine.  It's been a place of safety and refuge forever, and soon it won't be.


At this point, you're probably thinking "So why not make an offer when it goes up for sale?" The irony is, objectively speaking, I don't even like it.  It's a house.  It has a basement and an attic and a roof and a yard.  There's probably a spider somewhere in it right this minute.  It's inconveniently located.  Basically, I don't want it for the exact same reasons my parents don't, so I can't even blame them.

I stayed over there over xmas, and I found myself getting irritated by it.  You have to time having a shower around laundry and dishes and other showers, and the hot water is easily depleted.  My bed there has no redeeming qualities.  The wind rattles the windows. The air blowing out of the furnace vents has a magical ability to blow directly into my mouth when I'm trying to sleep.  From the creaks of the floorboards, you can tell exactly where everyone else in the house is and what they're doing.

When I returned to Toronto, a sense of contentment and belonging came over me as I walked home from the subway, through my own neighbourhood, and turned onto my own street.  My face lit up as I walked into my own apartment, as it hasn't done for my childhood home since before I moved out for the first time.

And yet, I still mourn for the loss of my childhood home.  My eyes still well up with tears as I write this. In an attempt to comfort myself, I considered the possibility that I might not miss it when it's gone.  But that only breaks my heart more.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What if 20/20 vision isn't perfect?

20/20 vision means that when you're 20 feet away from something, you can see it as well as a person with normal can see it when they're 20 feet away from it.

But what if that isn't perfect or optimal?  What if the people they used to calculate normal vision had subpar vision? 

Because 20/20 is considered optimal, our corrective lenses usually correct us to 20/20.  But what if they could correct us to better with a different kind of lense?  What if we could have superhuman distance vision?  Among other things, imagine how that would improve driving safety!


From the Star:
IF TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: This year you often will go to extremes. In the process of doing so, you couldn’t care less. It is how you feel after the fact that will cause you to employ some self-discipline. You have a vision for what your life could be and what you want out of it. You ambitiously will start to create just that. If you are single, your desirability speaks for itself. Commit only when you are good and ready. If you are attached, the two of you blend together well. You can count on your sweetie. TAURUS can be seductive yet difficult.

From the G&M:

Neptune, planet of dreams and imagination, is strong on your birthday this year, so if there is something of an artistic or creative nature you would like to do now is the time to get on with it. Seize the future and make it your own.

Interesting, I'm not entirely sure what to make of these.  I hope I can avoid Tauruses though - seductive yet difficult is the last thing I need.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to slide the edge guide in an Epson Stylus NX130

In the paper tray of the Epson Stylus NX130 all in one inkjet printer, there is a grey slidey thing, apparently called an edge guide.  It needs to be slid to the side so the paper will fit in.

In order to slide it side to side, you have to squeeze it while sliding it.  It won't move if you don't squeeze it.

I'm blogging this because I had a hell of a time finding this information when I needed it.

(Note that this is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of this printer.  I bought it because I needed a scanner and a printer on short notice and didn't have time to research or comparison shop, and this was the cheapest one that was small enough in the box for me to carry.  It does the job, but printing is slower and noisier than it could be.  I would have preferred to do more research and buy a faster, quieter, better-quality laser printer.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why Kim from Between Friends shouldn't speak to her son's class: the parental ego approach

I blogged previously about a storyline in the comic strip Between Friends, where the character of Kim had been asked by her son's teacher to go speak to her class. (If you click through in the old post, you can see the whole week's worth of strips.  The storyline also continues the week of November 26.)  I proposed that she shouldn't because it would be disrespectful of her son's expressed feelings, and parents should want to set the example for their children that you respect feelings and that you can expect your feelings to be respected.

However, some people (some of whom are parents) aren't very receptive to this argument.

So here's another one from a parental ego perspective:

We know that Kim's speaking to the class must be of some educational benefit to the students, or the teacher wouldn't have brought up the idea.

We know that any good parent wants to give their kid every advantage possible.

So if Kim doesn't speak to her son's class, she's retaining that educational benefit for her son, giving him an advantage over his classmates.

All of which sounds rather mercenary, doesn't it?

BUT, Kim can remove any perception that she's being mercenary by simply telling the teacher that she isn't going to do it this year out of respect for her son's feelings, but she'll revisit the idea in a couple of years when it isn't relevant to her son any more.  This would make her look like a good, thoughtful, considerate mother who's setting an example for her child so he grows up to be respectful, while also making her look like she's an engaged member of the community who wants to help students and be involved in her school.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition III

This post is a follow-up to this and this.

7. Anyone who replies to a complaint about life's unfairness with "Well, life isn't fair" will thenceforth only get a restatement of the problem in response to any complaint they make.

"My foot hurts."
"Well, your foot hurts."

"Damn, I spilled my coffee everywhere!"
"Well, you spilled your coffee everywhere."

"This widget I purchased doesn't work properly."
"Well, this widget doesn't work properly."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Things Google Should Invent: don't index blog template sidebars on individual post pages.

Newer blog templates have expandable tree archive links that contain the title of every post.  (You can see an example in the right-hand column of this blog, under the twitter feed.)

The problem is that Google indexes these archive links like they're just regular words on the page, with the result that if you google within someone's blog for a word or phrase that happens to appear in a post title, Google will return every single page from that blog.

For example, I once wrote a blog post with the title "Denervousization", which isn't a real word at all and I just made up for the post.  However, if you google the word "denervousization", you get the post entitled "Denervousization", you get this post if you're reading it after it's been indexed, and you get a number of other posts that are turning up simply because they have the link to the "Denervousization" post in the archive links.

Not that many extra posts are turning up for this particular search because I switched to a template with expandable tree archive links very recently, but as time goes by they'll all get reindexed and eventually every single post will turn up if you search for just the one post with a distinctive title.  Not terribly useful, is it?

Since Blogger and Blogspot belong to Google, they should be able to work something out between the two of them to produce more effective search results.

Monogamy as sexual orientation

I was rather surprised and disconcerted to see Dan Savage, in both last week's column and the week before's (last letter both times), insist that polygamous and monogamous aren't sexual orientations.  This was bizarre to me, because I've been coming to realize over the course of my life that my sexual orientation is most accurately described as "monogamous".

In this week's column, he has some testimonials from people who identify as orientationally poly, but there's nothing firsthand from people who identify as orientationally monogamous.  So I thought I'd share what I can currently articulate about how it works for me.

- "Why do you describe it as an orientation rather than a practice?" Sexual orientation is the primary factor in defining who you are capable of being sexually attracted to.  If you're heterosexual, for example, the fact that someone is of the opposite sex is the primary factor in determining whether you can be sexually attracted to them.  People talk about "meeting men" or "meeting women" - the gender is so intrinsic to defining who we're capable of being attracted to that people use it as a shorthand for "people I am capable of being attracted to."  For me, the primary factor is whether I love them.  That's the one factor that absolutely must be present to switch on sexual attraction.  Yes, this means that I'm not sexually attracted to people before I love them.  I've never once in my life looked at a random passer-by and thought "I'd hit that!"  I have to have a reason to fall in love with them first.  I can be sexually attracted to someone for whom I have unrequited love as long as there's no requited love going on in my life, but it can only be that one person.

- "But can't you be in love with more than one person?"  No.  I don't have room.  Analogy: I have two breasts, each of which has one nipple.  Therefore, I could nurse a maximum of two babies simultaneously.  There is no possible way to do more, because there simply aren't more nipples.  There's no expansion pack, there's no extension cord, it's a hard and fast limit.  Similarly, I only have one slot in my brain for being in love with a person.  There simply isn't any more room and no way to expand it. Yes, I've heard that some people can, and I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to question their self-knowledge.  But the fact remains that I can't.

- "It's illogical."  I totally agree.  I always assumed that a monogamous relationship was just for fairy tales and old-fashioned people to whom it didn't occur to do otherwise.  How presumptuous would it be for me to think anyone could possibly find me sufficient!  But then, one day, my boyfriend raised the idea that we could be monogamous.  I was shocked that such a thing would be suggested in real life, but I noticed that since we'd gotten together I hadn't had even the slightest glimmer of interest in anyone else, so I agreed.  And HOLY SHIT WAS IT SEXY!!!  It was so sexy that everything I'd previously thought was sexy was relegated to "unremarkable".  It was the emotional equivalent of discovering the clitoris. It' s so sexy that the (physical or psychological) involvement of someone with whom I'm not in a monogamous committed relationship in any sort of sexual experience cannot possibly contribute to the sexiness of the situation - even if the situation is one where I would otherwise be alone.  The best possible outcome is neutral; the worst, and most likely, outcome is total turn-off.  Much like, I'd imagine, Dan Savage would feel if I turned up in his bed.  Analogy: the clitoris is illogical.  It would be far more logical if everyone's primary source of orgasms were vaginal stimulation, because that would facilitate procreation and provide primary stimulation to both partners in an opposite-sex coupling simultaneously.  However, this does not negate the fact that the clitoris exists and is the primary source of orgasms for many people.

- "So how do you transition from one relationship to another?"  As I've mentioned in other blog posts, my feelings - all feelings, not just romantic - don't go away.  They pile up like the stuff in the "miscellaneous" pile on your desk - the ones at the bottom might be hidden from view by the ones added more recently, but they still exist, perfectly whole and in their original state.  What this means for romantic feelings is that new feelings must be so strong that they completely envelop and overwhelm the old feelings.  The old feelings don't go away, they just become insignificant in the face of the exponential superiority of the new feelings. I can't go from one relationship to another equal relationship; I can only transition to a significantly better relationship.  (This also applies for platonic relationships, BTW.  I've blogged before about how my Grade 8 friends abandoned me before high school started.  My feelings for those people are still exactly the same as they were when they were still being friends with me, it's just the friends I've made since are so much more awesome that the feeling I was defining as "friendship" in Grade 8 no longer counts as such.  My current close friends found me when we were in our mid/late teens, and I haven't felt the need to seek out new friends since.)

- "What about fantasy?" When my love is requited, I don't fantasize about anyone else.  I can't explain why, it just doesn't happen.  When my love is not requited, I'm like Marshall in How I Met Your Mother.  Marshall, as you may recall, can only fantasize about someone other than his wife Lily if he constructs a scenario where Lily has died but, on her deathbed, gave him her blessing to be with whomever is the subject of the fantasy.  Similarly, the premise of my fantasy has to be that my previous love thinks it's for the best that I'm with the subject of the fantasy. When my 13-year-old self transitioned from crushing on Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher to crushing on Dean Cain as Clark Kent, she constructed a scenario where Wesley had to go off and join the Traveller, and therefore introduced her to the most powerful man on earth to ensure she'd have a worthy partner.  (Did I mention this was fantasy?)  It sounds complex when I write it up like this, but all fantasy actually involves a lot of premise.  You're constructing a scenario where the subject of your fantasy likes you and enjoys spending time with you and doesn't smell and is into all the same sex acts as you and can do that thing with their tongue and isn't creeped out by the fact that you have a poster of them over your bed, all on top of the fact that the two of you were in the same place at the same time and managed to talk and they found you interesting enough that they didn't just pass you over for the next fangirl.

- "But is poly something anyone can do or something some people are? I come down on the "do" side" - Dan Savage, Nov. 28. You could do it without being it, and you could (with much more incentive and self-discipline) be it without doing it.  I could, I suppose, have more than one lover, as in I could physically carry out the motions.  But I don't want to, and am in fact repulsed by the idea.  Just like I'm sure Dan Savage could engage in a rousing session of cunnilingus (and, being a sex advice columnist, would probably even know a trick or two), but I suspect he'd rather be in bed alone with a book.  Polyamory is something anyone can do just like having sex with a woman is something anyone can do.  That doesn't mean it isn't an orientation factor.

- "But I'm monogamous as a result of a deliberate choice to be so - it has nothing to do with my sexual orientation!"  I have no doubt that's true.  Many people make a conscious decision to be monogamous.  However, it is still my orientation.  Analogy: It is perfectly possible for someone who is bisexual to make a conscious decision to only have relationships with members of the opposite sex, perhaps for procreation, religious, or convenience purposes.  However, this does not negate the fact that many people are heterosexual by orientation and are actually turned off by the idea of sex with a member of the same sex.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Teach me about optican economics

Optical stores, at least large chains, often have major discounts that only apply if you buy a complete pair of glasses (i.e. frames and lenses).  They won't ever give you a discount if you just have new lenses installed in a pair of frames that you already own.

As a result, there are times, with major sales and less expensive frames, when  you could get a complete pair of glasses for less than it would cost for just the lenses.  For example, using numbers that make the math easy, if the frames cost $100, the lenses cost $200, and there's a 50% discount happening, you could get a complete pair for $150 where they would charge you $200 to put exactly the same lenses in a pair of your own frames. 

I understand that the lenses are custom-made and frames are mass-produced, so the margins are far greater on frames.  But what do they gain by charging me less for buying more things?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Things They Should Invent: give out your primary online presence rather than asking for phone numbers

Reading this Reddit thread, I was surprised how many people seem to still be subscribing to what should really be considered an old-fashioned script for hitting on people: you approach them, say something complimentary or clever, exchange some banter, and ultimately walk away with their phone number.

This is not a good script, because the stated definition of success (the approachee giving their phone number to the approacher) has the approachee bearing all the risk.  Now someone you barely know has your phone number.  You don't have their phone number, you don't know anything about them other than what they've told you during your conversation. The approacher is the one who started it, so they should bear the risk by giving their contact information to the approachee, rather than vice versa.  The standard script is really the in-person equivalent of phishing.

But the norm of giving out a phone number is also suboptimal. The phone number tells you nothing except how to contact a person.  It would be far more useful for the approacher to give the approachee the address of their primary online presence - blog, twitter, facebook, even a reddit profile is informative.  Then the approachee could vet the approacher at their leisure, see what kind of person they are, what kind of opinions they have, what they're a fan of, whether they do that annoying thing where they make elipses out of commas,,,,,etc.  If the approachee is particularly enthusiastic, they can share their primary online presence right away; if they're more hesitant, they can retain the option to vet first.

The problem with taking this approach is that it currently isn't normal.  It would come across as both arrogant and creepy-weird to walk up to someone, hand them a card, and say "Here's my website, check me out."

But if this method could be normalized, it would make approaching people both more honest and more efficient.  You wouldn't need to have a conversation to win them over, your online presence will do that for you if they're compatible.  So you can just walk up to them and write down your URL or hand over your card.  You also wouldn't have to come up with a pick up line or a clever way to make conversation or otherwise figure out a way to artificially win someone's trust enough to get them to take the risk of giving you their phone number.  You can just say "Hi, I think your red hair is gorgeous. Here's where to find me if you're interested."  If you're the approachee, you can see how attractive the approacher is when they approach you (if that's a decision factor), but you can also find out more about them at your leisure rather than having to base your decision on their charm offensive.  You'll also be able to discover core incompatibilities faster (e.g. you're childfree and they're not, they prioritize health and fitness and you would like to retain the option of letting yourself go) and thereby avoid wasting time trying to make someone who's essentially incompatible like you.

This would also allow people who are interested in doing so to move on more people in a given night.  You don't have to make an excuse to stop talking to each person, you're just politely retreating to give them space after you hand over your card, so there's nothing wrong with talking to another person afterwards (although it would come across as skeevy if you walked straight over to th enext person).  You can, of course, have an actual conversation immediately if both parties are inclined, but it's not necessary to close the deal.

At this point, you might be thinking "But a person could totally create a fake online presence!"  Yes, and a person could totally lie to someone they're trying to pick up.  But for people who are being genuine, giving out your online presence would be a far better approach than asking for the person's phone number.  This method needs to be normalized.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Things They Should Invent: computer program for choosing condo finishes

Apparently the way you choose finishes for your new condo is you actually go to a place and look at swatches and choose them that way. 

That's so 20th century!

They need instead a computer simulation where you can click on each finish and see what it would look like in your actual unit. You could view different combinations at a click of a mouse, save them and revisit them later, and even share them.

In my particular case, nearly everyone I've ever met is inexplicably enthusiastic about the possibility of choosing finishes, so I was giving very serious consideration to crowd-sourcing the whole thing.  (The part of my brain that finds randomness satisfying would appreciate that.) Unfortunately, that's not very feasible if you have to make an appointment and be at a specific place at a specific time.  However, if everyone could log in to a website and save their preferences, I could choose my finishes by pure democracy, or have everyone put together a look they like best, or have everyone put together a look and then put it to a general vote to pick the best look.

If this were sharable by social media, it could even help create buzz for the condo builder - people might start tweeting and facebooking their gorgeous future kitchens.  Plus, it would certainly be more affordable to build a real-life version of the Sims' build function (maybe it could even be done IN the Sims' build function?) than to rent and staff physical space for people to go look at swatches for every single condo a given developer builds.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Potentially reluctant fathers in Call the Midwife

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Call the Midwife episodes 3 and 6

One criticism I've seen of Call the Midwife is that episode 3 is unrealistic.  In this episode, an older couple finds themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and the mother seems less than thrilled about this development.  Partway through the episode, she confides in the midwives that she's afraid that when the baby is born it will be black.  It seems she didn't love her husband, only married him for financial security for her (now grown) children from her previous marriage, and had had a single one-night stand with a black man.  So the baby is born, and it is black.  And the mother's husband thinks it's the most adorable baby that has ever lived, and is later seen proudly pushing his pram.

Critics say that the man's immediate acceptance of a baby that clearly isn't is isn't realistic, especially for that era.  But it really worked for me as an audience member because, for that very reason, it was a totally unexpected plot twist.  I was expecting her husband to abandon her or beat her or something, or, as a longshot, have a visceral negative reaction but ultimately forgive his wife.  His utter delight at having a baby to raise came as a complete surprise, and therefore I found it narratively satisfying.

However, this affected my reaction to episode 6. In episode 6, a patient informs the midwives that she has come to London from wherever she was before to be with the father of her baby.  She is confident that he will be thrilled that she's pregnant.  He isn't home (she says he's a sailor and is at sea) so she gains entry to his flat somehow only to discover that there's no sign of life and the electricity and water isn't turned on.  And then, of course, she goes into labour there.  (And gives birth to triplets.)  And is still deliriously happy with the situation.

I was expecting her babies' father to never come back, or to turn her out of his house, or to end up already having a wife and kids.  But instead, we see her in one of the final scenes walking down the street pushing her pram, with the babies' father walking beside her and proudly carrying one of the babies.  And this struck me as unrealistic and not narratively satisfying. 

An unexpected plot twist is enjoyable, but having every single potentially reluctant father end up being thrilled with the new arrival eliminates a lot of the potential dramatic tension.  Either they should have had an unhappy new father in between these two plots, or the triplets' father's willingness to be a father should have been established earlier.  (Even though the triplets' mother's story is an impetus in Chummy's decision to move forward with her love life, they could have resolved the father's issue by having him find the mother in labour and call the midwives, and then gotten dramatic tension from a sudden delivery of undiagnosed triplets.) Creating the same dramatic tension as in episode 3 and having it resolve the same way weakens the series as a whole.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to get rid of the colon after the comments in Blogger's "Ethereal" template

Short version: search your template's HTML for <data:post.commentLabelFull/>:, and delete the colon after the >

Detailed version:

1. Log into Blogger
2. From the More Options drop-down (just to the left of the "View Blog" button), select "Template".
3. Under "Live on Blog", click on the "Edit HTML" button.
4. A warning may pop up; click on "Proceed".
5. Check the "Expand Widget Templates" checkbox.
6. Use your browser's search function (most likely Ctrl+F) to search for <data:post.commentLabelFull/>:
7. Delete the colon after the >.
8. Click "Preview" to make sure it worked.
9. Click on "Save Template".

Friday, November 16, 2012

State of the blog template

I think I've got my new template pretty much finalized.  The only problem is the colon after the word "comments" at the bottom of each post.  I can't for the life of me figure out how to make it go away.  I even used the search function to find every colon in my template HTML, and I couldn't find any that didn't serve a specific coding purpose.  (My template is called "Ethereal", if anyone feels like trying to figure it out.) 

Update: I've just figured out how to make it go away.

Other than that, if anything is difficult to read or isn't working properly, this is the place to report it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Under construction

Currently making some changes to the template.  Any residual weirdness should be gone shortly.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Praising children's accomplishments

My Favourite Little Person recently turned 1!  I'm so proud of her!

Yes, even though it isn't actually an accomplishment, my immediate emotional response is to be proud of her. The same holds for any milestone.  She can crawl!  She can walk!  If you ask her "Where's the apple?" she'll point at the apple!  (Aside: that blows my mind - I didn't even know pre-verbal children could do that!)  I'm so proud of her!

When I'm actually in the same room as her,  my immediate emotional response to her doing anything new or new to me or successful or big-girlish is to gush.  "Wow!  Look at you!  You're walking!  **Applause**  Good girl!"  Even though  it's a perfectly normal milestone that everyone who is physically capable achieves.

There's a parenting philosophy that you shouldn't gush over kids' accomplishments when they're regular everyday accomplishments, you should save it for the truly impressive. And proponents of this philosophy seem to think that parents are gushing over kids' accomplishments in an attempt to boost the kids' self-esteem.

But based on my visceral and emotional inclination to gush about MFLP (who isn't even my own child!) I question whether it's possible for a loving parent to not gush over a small adorable child learning something new or achieving a milestone.  It seems like it would take a massive amount of restraint, and would build up an emotional wall for no good reason.

What if parents made a point of never humiliating their kids?

This post was inspired by this comic strip:

Her son is mortified by the idea of her speaking to his class, but she completely shrugs off his emotions.  Her husband might be enjoying the fact that their son is mortified, and she seems to be amused by this.

This is sort of a common cultural trope - kids are embarrassed by their parents, the parents see the kids' embarrassment as foolish and invalid, and the parents therefore take a certain delight in embarrassing their kids.  And, as a cultural trope, it's seen as all in good fun, at least by the parents.

But it seems to me that this is the kind of thing that could foster bullying attitudes.

A kid in a family like this will learn that feelings aren't worth respecting. If someone finds something humiliating, taking advantage of that fact to make them feel humiliated is normal, valid, and entertaining.  Surely no good can come of taking that attitude into the schoolyard with them!  The kid will also learn (as I did) that baseline human reality is that people want to embarrass you, and develop self-worth and defence mechanisms accordingly.

But suppose instead the parent said "I respect your feelings. If it would embarrass you, I won't do it."  And then the parent said to the teacher "It would embarrass Danny to have his mother come speak to the class, and I respect his feelings.  I'd be happy to come speak to your students in a year or two, once it would no longer bother him."

Then he would learn that respecting people's feelings is normal, and might carry that forward into the rest of the world.

Things They Should Invent: call centres call you back instead of putting you on hold

Being on hold is tiresome and tedious, especially if you don't have a speakerphone. 

Instead of putting us on hold, why not have the waiting callers' phone numbers automatically added to a callback queue, and the next available representative can call us back?  It would take up marginally more of the reps' time (although it seems like a computer could automatically take care of the dialling and connecting), but it would be better customer service and less stressful for the customers.

Why childfree people are useful to your children

Some people who are parents like to try to convince others (including the childfree) to have children. 

I think this is a strategic error on their part.

First, if I don't have children, I'm not creating competition for your child. My child would be after the same daycare spaces and university spaces and scholarships and jobs as your child. Why would you want that?

Second, if I don't have children, the resources that would be dedicated to my children have the potential of going to your children. 

Example: several months ago, the manufacturer of My Favourite Little Person's favourite cereal changed the recipe so it contained something she was allergic to.  Her parents (who, by the way, are not the kind of parents who try to convince CF people to have kids) were trying to hoard as much of the old version as possible, so I promptly went to the supermarket, bought up every box, and brought it all to them.  But if I had a baby of my own, especially if my baby had the same allergy, I would have responded to this news by buying up every box for my own baby, and MFLP would be out a few months' worth of cereal.

Another example: I was recently at a professional gathering where some of the people in attendance were new parents.  One person, who was on maternity leave, brought her baby with her.  She wanted to have an uninterrupted cup of coffee, so several people, including me, held the baby for a period of time.  I was holding him when he started fussing, and even managed to get him to stop fussing so his mother didn't have to drop everything.  But if I had a baby of my own, I wouldn't have found holding a baby to be an interesting and amusing diversion and would have instead been more interested in having my own uninterrupted cup of coffee, and that baby would have had a more stressed mommy that day.

Obviously, a few boxes of cereal and a round of fussy baby bouncing aren't life-changing.  Most of the time, my life has no impact on the children around me - positive or negative.  But when I do come in contact with the children around me, the fact that I have no children of my own allows me to be a slight positive influence in a way that wouldn't be as possible if I had kids.

Can you see my twitter feed?

My latest tweets are supposed to be appearing in the top of the left-hand column of my blog, under the cursive word "Currently".  However, I can't see them.  I can just see the link that says "Follow me on Twitter". 

Can you see them?  Which browser are you using?

Things They Should Invent: non-emasculating way to praise small penises

General societal attitude towards penises is that bigger is better.  But, given that the internal dimensions of the human body are finite, it is possible for a penis to be too big from the point of view of the person on the receiving end.  And, if you've been in that situation, you might find yourself thinking that a smaller penis would be more enjoyable.

People who have had a partner with an uncomfortably large penis are aware of this.  Based on what I've read in Savage Love comment threads, owners of uncomfortably large penises are aware of this.  But are owners of small penises aware of this?

It's not something you can tell someone.  Even putting aside the fact that comparing one lover to another is in poor taste, telling a man "Oh, your penis is so nice and small, not like my previous boyfriend's.  His was enormous, it was so uncomfortable!" is not going to make him feel good. Nor is a delighted "Oh, it's so nice and manageable!" when he takes off his pants for the first time, even though you are truly delighted about it.

The language surrounding not just small penises but also non-big penises all makes it sound like a deficiency to be compensated for. "It's not size that matters, it's what you do with it," as though not being gargantuan needs to be compensated for with skill. Even porn about small penises (or at least the first page of google results thereof) seems to have themes of humiliation and emasculation, rather than being intended to reflect the fact that viewers of various shapes and sizes may wish to see people they can identify with in porn, or the fact that sticking a projectile the size of one's forearm into a space the size of one's pinky is not necessarily everyone's idea of optimal sexiness.

This attitude of small penises as a deficiency to be made up for or an emasculating humiliation is so wholly pervasive that, even as I sit here wishing for a way to praise small penises, I feel the need to protect the dignity of those I love and have loved by explicitly stating that this whole question is purely academic for me.  I have never been in the situation of discovering that a penis is smaller than I expected.  However, I have given thought to the matter, and it occurs to me that I may well feel positively about the situation, and I would like to have the option of expressing any delight, enthusiasm, or other positive emotions I may feel at the time.

If you discover something delightful when undressing your lover but do not feel you can comment positively on it (or, if you want to make a positive comment, you have to do so in a way that could imply you mean the opposite of what you really do), we have a cultural problem and a linguistic problem.  We need to figure out how to fix it. 

Coping tips for a young introvert

 From a recent Dear Prudence chat:
Hi Prudie, My family is rather large (45 people on average for Thanksgiving) and my husband's parents are divorced and we try to see both of them at some point over the weekend. Our kids are 13, 11, and eight and in the past have seemed to enjoy spending the holiday weekend this way. Yesterday my 11-year-old daughter told me that she wants a "quiet" holiday. We have noticed that she is getting increasingly introverted over the past year or so, more likely to read by herself than play with her brothers and cousins. She told me that there are "too many people and too much driving." My husband and I are party-loving extroverts, so house hopping and driving six+ hours over the weekend is no big deal to us. But my daughter doesn't complain often and I know if she brings something up it is legitimately important to her. In small groups, and especially one-on-one, my daughter is a delight: creative, funny, and very smart. But in big groups she just fades into the background, possibly counting down the minutes until she can read by herself again. How do I balance my daughter's request that we tone things down with a) reasonable expectations from family to see us, b) the rest of my immediate family's love of going all-out, and c) not making the holiday all about her. My daughter's personality is so different from the rest of us that I don't know how to meet everybody's needs at once. Any advice? Any introverts want to chime in?

In addition to Prudie's answer, I have some ideas:

- First of all, don't worry about the fact that she's fading into the background!  That's not a problem.  She doesn't need to be the star.  She's there, she's doing her duty, she's not being rude to anyone, that's sufficient.  Work with her on managing the situation so she doesn't get overly drained and melt down, work on giving her options for respites and recharging, protect and advocate for her within the family, but don't worry that she isn't the star of the family dinner table.  Civil and emotionally neutral is sufficient.

- In terms of specific strategies, is there a job she could do that would take her away from everyone else?  A dog that needs walking?  A sleeping baby that needs to be checked on?  Something that needs to be fetched from the garage?

- Is it possible for her to spend a small amount of time (like 10 minutes) in the car alone while everyone else is in the house?  You could have a code "I need to get something out of the car", give her the keys, and let her get in the back and decompress.  If anyone comes out to check on her, she could be rummaging through a bag that's in the car.  (Besides, anyone who catches an 11-year-old girl secretively getting something out of the car is just going to assume that she got her period.)

- Set a schedule, tell her what it is, and stick to it.  "We're going to Auntie Em's for dinner at 6, and we'll leave by 10."  It's much more bearable when you know when it's going to end.

- If the house is big enough to have multiple bathrooms, when she needs a break she could use the upstairs bathroom.  The two-storey suburban houses in my family have a small powder room downstairs, and a full bathroom upstairs that's the family's primary bathroom (for showering, brushing teeth, etc.) but isn't in any of the bedrooms.  (There's often also an ensuite in the master bedroom.)  Usually guests use the downstairs bathroom, but when there's a lot of people in the house and it's family, you might use the upstairs bathroom if the downstairs bathroom is occupied.  This would be quieter and give you a moment alone.  You can pretty much stay in there until you hear someone coming up the stairs, and then you have the excuse "Oh, the downstairs bathroom was occupied and I couldn't wait." (Again, they'll just assume that she got her period.)

- If there is an unoccupied "public" room of the house (i.e. not someone's bedroom), she could go hang out there and, if someone comes and asks her what she's doing, she could say "Oh, I was just admiring this picture on the wall.  What's the story behind it?"  Practise plausible scripts with her, so she can turn being "caught" being alone into a pleasant sociable conversation-starter.

- If the trip involves overnight stays, can you stay in a hotel rather than with relatives?  Since the letter mentions the introvert daughter as having "brothers", that would mean she's the only girl, so she should at least be able to get her own bed.  If you can manage a suite instead of a room, maybe she could get her own room (girls going through puberty do start needing privacy from their brothers, after all), or sleep alone in the living-room area of the suite.  If you have to stay with relatives, think about how to give her her own space to sleep. Maybe she'd prefer sleeping on the couch in the den rather than on her cousin's floor?

- Can you host, maybe every other year or so?  That would spare your daughter the driving time and give her the option of retreating to her own room.

- Does she have a smartphone?  (Or will she within the next couple of years?) Since she likes to read, maybe she could put an ebook reader app on her phone, and, when she gets a chance to duck into a quiet room, read that way.  It gives the appearance that she's  just sending a quick text or something, whereas sitting with an actual book implies that you've settled in for a while.  People might still think she's rude for ducking into another room and texting during a family event, but I think if she can give the impression that she's just finishing up when someone notices her, it shouldn't go over too badly.

- Try to give her at least one day off during the weekend.  I always find going straight from an action-packed weekend to a full week of work (or, worse, school) is practically unbearable.  I need at least one day to sleep in and lounge around at home doing nothing.  If it's not possible to have a day off during the weekend, maybe let her stay home "sick" on the first day back.  (You could tell her brothers she really is sick if they're likely to want a free sick day too.  Again, they'll just assume she has her period.)

- Depending on the personalities involved, you might consider strategically outing her as an introvert to key family members.   Don't make it a big "We need to talk" with undertones of shamefulness.  Break the news with enthusiasm for the revelation and sympathy for your daughter.  "I was just reading this book, and I realized that Daughter is an introvert.  You know how we love seeing the whole family over the holidays and get energized and recharged from it?  Turns out all this time this has been draining to her, poor kid!"  If one key member of each household you're visiting is aware of her needs (and isn't going to use this information to give her shit), maybe they can help with things like letting her walk the dog or giving her more private sleeping arrangements, or at the very least not meddle and nag if they ever spot her catching a moment's privacy.

- Prudie recommends the book Quiet by Susan Cain.  It is useful, bit I found Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney even more useful. It includes a technical (but understandable) description of the neurology behind introversion, and specific strategies for introverts in extroverted families.

False ego boosting

As you've probably figured out from reading my blog, the most effective way to stroke my ego is to target intelligence.  The people I was working with while buying my condo, being experienced professionals who work with people making major life decisions every day, were savvy enough to spot this.  So they tried to flatter my intelligence by telling me, at various points during the course of our two hours together, that I was asking all the right questions and that I was really good and together compared with other clients they have and that the fact that I know exactly what I want is impressive.

But I know full well that I wasn't being especially smart or together or impressive, I was just muddling through and asking every stupid question that popped into my head (thank you Entitlement!).  They were also laughing at every quasi-humorous statement I made as though it were laugh-worthy, which I know full well it isn't.

I hate it when people do that!

It's irritating because I know that they're faking, but I can't call them out on it ("Stop laughing at my jokes!") and pretty much have to go along because they're using it as a social lubricant and I want the interpersonal aspect of the situation to go smoothly too.  But after I'm exposed to this enough, even with my awareness of what they're doing, it starts working on me and I become increasingly manipulable.

It wasn't terribly relevant for this condo purchase because I already knew exactly what I wanted and just needed to be walked through the process and have my questions answered, but normally in nervous major purchase/major life decision situations, there's some room for salesmanship, so I need to avoid being manipulated but still keep the interpersonal aspect of the situation working smoothly.

News and such

So the big news, and the reason why I've been quiet lately, is that I bought a condo yesterday.  It was the same one I was interested in here - turns out I can afford it now. And, despite the fact that seven months have passed, I still got the unit I wanted. So it seems like their inconsiderate presale strategy had the unexpected advantage of letting me keep a large portion of my life's savings in my own accounts for a few months longer.

This kind of good luck makes me nervous. The other shoe will have to drop sometime.

In my typical way, I was more nervous about having to go to the place and talk to the people than I was about a massive decades-long financial commitment.  So I'm less nervous now that I've met the people and they're working for me now.  But I'm still in the internalized and self-obsessed place.  I allowed myself a completely indulgent day yesterday.  And, honestly, I don't want to be blogathoning today, I want to keep obsessing and eating comfort food.  So I'm making myself blogathon in an attempt to forcibly externalize.  This is probably going to end up being a poor-quality blogathon.

Good morning!

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

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The moment I realized I was an adult

There's been a meme circulating the internet lately where you describe the moment when you first realized you're an adult.

I've had a number of these in my life.  There was the time my 19-year-old self missed the entrance exam for the translation program, called them up and talked them into letting me retake it, and travelled to Toronto by myself for the first time in my life to do so.  There was the time, early in my current job, when I successfully did serious and hardcore research to translate a text in a field I knew nothing about and my reviser didn't even comment on it, leading me to realize that I now inhabited a milieu where we are simply expected to be competent.  But the most recent time when I realized I'm an adult was just after I bought my Bruce Springsteen tickets.

I asked around to find out who wanted to go with me and I had a number of non-committal expressions of interest, but, as of the day when tickets went on sale, I had no firm commitments.  But I wanted to go, and I didn't want to go alone.  So I bought two tickets.

At that point, I realized, I could do whatever I wanted and no one would ever know.  I could go with a friend. I could go with a casual acquaintance.  I could go with a co-worker or family member or friend of a friend.  If I was reduced to trying to find some random person to go with, I could tell them that a friend had agreed to go and then had to back out at the last minute.  If I was desperate, I could eat the cost and tell them my friend had already paid for it.  I could sell the extra ticket and sit next to some random stranger.  I could sell both tickets and probably turn a profit.  I could even chicken out completely, eat the cost of both tickets, and just not go, leaving two mysterious empty seats on the 100 level.  And no one would ever know that I bought tickets without a friend to go with, or even that I bought tickets at all, unless I chose to tell them.

When I was a kid, this wasn't an option.  If I wanted to go to something, I had to get parental permission for where I was going and who I was going with.  If I didn't have a friend to go with, my parents would know, which meant my sister would know (and make fun of me for it), which meant my peers would know (and make fun of me for it).  If I asked around trying to find someone to go with, people would know that I didn't have someone to go with, which my peers might make fun of me for.  If I chickened out at the last minute, I'd get lectured by my parents for chickening out (and possibly forced to go anyway, to my humiliation) and possibly made fun of by my sister for not having friends.  Because our house has unforgiving acoustics, sneaking out wasn't possible, and staying home without my family knowing wasn't possible.

But here in true adulthood, I can buy tickets without having to go, I can go without having to prearrange a friend to go with, and I can keep whatever aspects I want private from whomever I want, all without at any point being shamed for not having plans fall perfectly into place.

And, best of all, after all this angst I ended up being able to share the experience of my very first Bruce Springsteen concert with a true friend!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

"Hearts as both and cars"

My iTunes started playing the Disney song "I'm Professor Ludwig von Drake", and there was a line I couldn't hear clearly.  I googled it, and got:

I know all about atomic energy
hearts as both and cars and bio chemistry
"Hearts as both and cars"?  That doesn't make any sense.  The first dozen or so google results seemed unanimous, but there's no possible way that's the lyric.

Upon further selective googling, I found, and decided I agree with, this TVTropes page:  "horses, boats and cars."

I know all about atomic energy
Horses, boats and cars and biochemistry
but when it comes to brain surgery then I can only do swell.

 And now I'm blogging it in the hopes of increasing the googleability of the correct lyrics.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why does it take businesses so long to answer email?

I've noticed a disturbing pattern: whenever I send an email to a business, it takes them ages to respond.  I sent two emails - simple inquiries, the sort of questions they should expect to be asked every day - last Wednesday.  One was the equivalent of "Do you have widgets in stock, and, if so, how much do they cost?"  The other was "I bought a widget and it was missing a part. What should I do?" Still no reply.  One was sent to a general email address listed on their Contact page, the other was sent through a form on their website.

This is hardly the first time.  It has happened dozens of times in my life, including nearly every time I email Rogers. 

When I email very small businesses, they reply within a day or two.  So why on earth can't larger businesses?  If you don't have enough staff to reply to or escalate every email you receive within one business day, you're understaffed!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Call the Midwife

I blogged before about how, in Downton Abbey, the writers' decision make the nobles in this series kind and reasonable to their servants allows more interesting stories to be told.

I think the same is true for Call the Midwife, but rather than an idealized noblesse oblige, we have an idealized integration of newly-arrived outsiders.

In the opening scene, when the newly-graduated Nurse Lee walks into the neighbourhood for the first time and sees the poverty, crowding, and fights breaking out on the street, I thought I knew what to expect.  I thought the locals would disrespect her for being middle-class and educated, and she'd be totally out of her depth.  When she arrived at the convent and told them she hadn't realized it was a convent she'd been sent to, I thought the nuns would look down their noses at her for being worldly and for perhaps having come from a less austere quality of life than they themselves maintain.  I figured she'd find her place eventually, but we'd be in for a season of awkward and humiliating moments before that happened.

So I was very pleased to see that the series only lightly touched on that arc.  The nuns were glad to have the secular nurses around because they needed all the helping hands they could get, and had no problem whatsoever with their secular colleagues being secular.  The expectant mothers were glad to have midwifery care, and the midwives were respected in the neighbourhood and by doctors and hospitals.  Everyone is professionally competent; sometimes newbies need to call a senior midwife, sometimes midwives have to call for backup for a complicated birth, and sometimes they need to call in a doctor, but no one loses face for doing this. Even when the posh and awkward Chummy shows up, she's still competent (and not just at midwifery - when she discovers that they don't make uniforms big enough for her, she shrugs and reaches for the sewing machine), only the meanest one of the nuns says anything judgemental, and she's integrated well enough by the end of the episode.

This all sounds very happily-ever-after, but, like Downton Abbey, removing the expected primary conflict allows the show to spend more time showing us its universe - everyday life in postwar working-class East End London and the practice of midwifery in that context.  Which is the whole reason why I'm watching in the first place.

I hope this is the start of a new trend, because in historical fiction (and science fiction and fantasy, for that matter) I particularly enjoy immersing myself in the universe of the story, and I often find that the primary conflict comes barging in and disrupting that universe before I've gotten to spend enough time there.  (Which may also be why I like Star Trek.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Things They Should Invent Words For

This is related to this idea.

Scenario: I think it is important for widgets to be readily available to everyone who needs them.  The last time the Purple Party was in power, they ran on a platform of "Free widgets for all!" However, this platform was not implemented as well as it should have been.  The last time the Yellow Party was in power, they ran on a platform of "Ban widgets!"  And they did ban widgets.

There are some people who, in this situation, would say that I shouldn't vote for the Purple Party because either they lied about their "Widgets for all!" platform or they were incompetent at implementing it.  And there are some who would go so far as to say that I should vote for the Yellow Party to punish the Purple Party for their ineffective widget distribution policy, despite the fact that the Yellow Party has a very effective widget banning policy.

We need a single word or straightforward term for this phenomenon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Journalism wanted: how can people who find themselves in Amanda Todd's position get their tormenters in trouble without getting themselves in trouble?

Amanda Todd was coerced into exposing herself on a webcam when she was 12 years old.  She was a legal minor and she was below the age of consent, so surely that was illegal on the part of the coercer.  And, of course, having the pictures in his possession would have counted as possessing child pornography.

Then, when she was 15, someone tried to convince her to expose herself again, threatening to distribute her previous pictures if she didn't.  Blackmail is illegal (it's covered in the Criminal Code under "Extortion"), plus he was trying to coerce someone who is underage and under the age of consent to appear in child pornography, and threatening to distribute child pornography if she didn't comply.

It sounds like it should have been quite easy to report the blackmailer to police and put an end to Ms. Todd's troubles.

However, according to the story, the police knocked on Ms. Todd's door at 4 a.m. to tell her that her photo had been distributed. 

If I were a teen in Ms. Todd's position, that fact alone would be disincentive to going to the police.  The knock at the door at 4 a.m. would lead me to conclude that I couldn't expect the police to have compassion for me as a victim.  (At the absolute bare minimum, if the victim doesn't yet know they're a victim, why not do them the small decency of letting them get a full night's sleep?) It would lead me to conclude that the police wouldn't care about protecting me from the wrath of my parents (because a 4 a.m. knock at the door would result in my parents being tired and cranky and frightened, which would mean emotions are running high), which could be a reason to actively avoid police involvement if I had abusive parents.

Therefore, I think it would be helpful if some of the media coverage told teens in Ms. Todd's position how they could get help without getting into trouble.  Can you report it to the police without involving your parents?  Can they investigate it if you report it anonymously through Crime Stoppers?  What kind of evidence do they need?  Screen shots?  How can you avoid the 4 a.m. knock on the door?

Similarly, what should you do if you're an adult and a kid comes to you with this kind of problem?  How can you get the perp in trouble while minimizing the awkwardness and humiliation to the kid?

I also think, if they haven't done so already, the police should come up with a way for minor victims to report their victimization without the involvement of their parents, if they prefer not to involve their parents. Victim Services counsellors should also be trained and available to help minor victims tell their parents if they want, but parent-free reporting should still be possible.  And if it turns out that it is in fact possible to report that you've been a victim of a crime without involving your parents, police and media need to publicize this fact and give specifics.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Things They Should Invent: everyone who has ever been entitled to free cervical cancer vaccine is entitled to free cervical cancer vaccine

Fact: The cervical cancer vaccine is offered for free through school clinics in early adolescence.  (In Ontario, for example, it's offered for free to girls in Grade 8.)

Fact: Because of the students' age and the fact that it's offered through the school, parents can veto it, and many do.

Fact: The cervical cancer vaccine is expensive.  It cost me about $400 to get it 5 years ago.  And, in Ontario at least, it isn't covered by OHIP except for the school clinics for Grade 8 students.

Fact: The cervical cancer vaccine is not useful if you already have HPV.  People are generally considered to have been exposed to HPV if they are sexually active and are not certain are that every single one of their partners was HPV-free.

Fact: Many people become sexually active long before they're able to scrape together $400 to spend on a vaccine.

Problem: This means that people whose parents don't allow them to get the vaccine as adolescents may never be able to get the vaccine, because currently your only chance at a free vaccine is when you're in Grade 8.

Proposed solution: Anyone who was eligible for the free vaccine in Grade 8 (or whenever it's done in their jurisdiction) but doesn't get the vaccine at that point can get the vaccine for free from any health care provider (doctor, walk-in clinic, Student Health, Planned Parenthood) at any point in the future as long as it is not medically contraindicated.  You go in to get your first birth control pills, they also offer you Gardasil.

This won't cost any more to OHIP than they've already stated they're willing to pay (one vaccine per girl who has been in Grade 8 since the program started), and it will achieve the public health objectives far more effectively than leaving people whose parents were overprotective when they were 13 with the choice of delaying their entire sex life until they can scrape together more than a week's take-home pay at minimum wage or foregoing the chance to ever be immunized against the cancer-causing strains of HPV.  Eligibility would be easy enough to verify - it's a function of the patient's age and gender.  And normal medical channels could administer the vaccinations when the patients are willing but their parents are not, because medical professionals don't require parental consent to attend to minor patients' sexual health concerns.

This isn't intended to contradict my usual position that OHIP should pay for all health care that everyone needs at all ever.  However, it would serve as an effective interim measure that would better achieve the stated public health objectives without costing any more than OHIP has already stated they're willing to pay. Multi-win, no-lose situation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why do paper grocery bags exist?

Picture a paper grocery bag:

They're terribly inconvenient, aren't they?

You can carry a maximum of two, and you'd have to put them down every time you want to do up your coat, open a door, swipe your metropass, answer your phone, or get your keys out of your purse.  If a bottle leaks or it's rainy or snowy out, a paper bag disintegrates. (And, again, if you have more than one bag, you don't have the option of carrying an umbrella.)  It's extremely difficult to do another errand after groceries, because you'd have to put down your bags to select something off a store shelf or reach for your wallet.  Because you're limited to two bags, the likelihood of your peaches getting squished increases.

And yet, they persist.  Someone invented them, someone approved the idea, and the idea is common enough that if you do a google image search for "groceries", a good number of the images are paper bags so brimming full that, in real life, some of your produce would end up on the subway floor.

The first day after paper bags displaced plastic at my the LCBO, I wasn't able to leave the store with my purchase.  I was already carrying several shopping bags which were too full for me to add bottles.  The LCBO cashier handed me my purchase in a paper bag, and I couldn't carry it along with all my other shopping.  There just wasn't room in my hands and arms.  I had to have them do a return on my purchase and give me my money back, because it wasn't physically possible for me to get my purchase home that day.

And yet, enough people think these things are a reasonable replacement for plastic bags that they got all the way through whatever approval process the LCBO has.  And now people are acting as though they're reasonable replacements for all plastic bags when the short-sighted, ill-conceived city-wide ban on plastic bags goes into effect.  (The most frustrating thing was when I wrote to elected representatives encouraging them to vote against the ban and telling them about my idea of using biodegradable plastic bags, which will make environmentally optimal behaviour effortless for citizens, and they wrote back "reassuring" me that paper bags would still be permitted.)

What are these people doing that they find paper useful for anything other than ripening fruit?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How does the driver of the last GO bus of the day get home?

When a GO bus is full and there are still people waiting in line, sometimes they run another bus.  And sometimes they do this with the last bus of the night.

So when they do run an extra bus on the last run of the night, how does the driver of the extra bus get home?  Unless they have an extra driver around who's going to the destination city anyway, the driver of the extra bus ends their day in a completely different city than they expected to, and this well after midnight.  Even if they drove to work, their car is in a completely different city than they are and transit has stopped for the night.

So how do they get home?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Things They Should Invent Words For

You are very limited in life if you lack certain skills.  However, having these skills does not, in and of itself, make you employable.  Examples include literacy, numeracy, driving, and using a computer.  If you don't have these skills, you're at a significant disadvantage - both in the labour market and in life.  But having them gives you no particular advantage. no one would ever hire you simply because you can read, do basic math, drive a car, and operate a computer.

We need a word for skills like this.

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition II

As an addendum to this post:

6. Sometimes, when you ask for advice on how to find someone to provide a service you've never dealt with before (real estate agent/therapist/plumber/financial advisor), people tell you "Ask around!" or "Ask your friends!"  Even though if you're having that conversation, you're already asking around.  Therefore, anyone who suggests "ask around" to someone who's already asking around, or who suggests "ask your friends" to someone whose friends don't have an answer is thenceforth personally responsible for finding the asker what they need.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Describing people superficially

A while back, Miss Manners printed the following letter:


People just don't see my roommate the way I do.
When I look at her, I see the hilarious, kind, goofy, generous, fun-loving, down-to-earth roommate that I've had the privilege of living with this year.

Other people look at her and see only one thing: cerebral palsy. Well, that and the big red power scooter she uses to get around campus.

So, when I'm trying to tell someone who my roommate is, I describe her as Katie: the petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed freshman Psych major who lives in such-and-such dorm down the hall from so-and-so, or something to that effect. You know, the characteristics you'd use to identify just about anyone: name, major, year, appearance, etc.

In response to this, I get blank stares.

But as soon as I say the word "scooter", most anyone on campus- professors, students, staff, etc- knows exactly who I'm talking about.

She's fine with that; she's been "the scooter kid" in the eyes of the general population for as long as she's had the thing. But I feel I'm being disrespectful to her when I bring the s-word ("scooter") into play, because I'm reinforcing the idea that her disability is her most important identifying characteristic, when that's nowhere near being true. She and I have been attached at the hip-- or, handlebar, if you will-- all year, and I see her in a very different light. Yes, she has CP, but that's not in the top ten or even top fifty things that come to mind when I think of her.

When it's obvious that a person isn't going to know who I'm talking about unless I bring her disability into the conversation, should I do so, or just drop it and say something like "Never mind; I'll point her out to you if I see her," or "I'll introduce her to you sometime." and leave it at that?

This letter attracted my attention because sometimes I have the opposite problem.  I understand that it's insulting to define people by their most visually apparent marked features, but I keep running into situations where I need to identify people about whom I know nothing except their most visually apparent marked features.

I recently had a worker in a store where I was shopping notice that the item I had selected off the shelf was defective and go out of his way to find me a new one before I even noticed the problem, so I wanted to send the store an email thanking them for this worker's helpfulness.  Unfortunately, he wasn't wearing a nametag.  So I tried to describe him.  Medium height, dark hair, probably under 30...this described a number of workers in that store.  The feature that best served to distinguish him from the other workers is that he's brown.  However, I know that you're not supposed to call people brown.  People sometimes call themselves brown, but we can't call others that.  Which is fair enough under normal circumstances, but I honestly couldn't come up with another way to explain the concept (I'm not nearly savvy enough to determine his specific ethnic origin, and I know confusing one ethnicity with another can also be offensive.)  So my choices were to be kind of racist, or to give incomplete information and maybe have him not get credit for his helpfulness.*

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened to me.  Once I was buying some clothes, and the cashier asked if anyone had helped me, presumably for commission purposes.  Someone had helped me, but I didn't think to catch his name.  He was rather nondescript - white guy, medium height, brown hair...the most effective way I could have described him was "fabulously gay".

When I worked at my alma mater, I was trying to help one of my new co-workers put a face to the name of a departmental secretary.  Middle-aged, medium build, medium brown hair, all of which describes the vast majority of the departmental secretaries. The most effective way to describe this lady would have been "the one who walks funny".  I don't know the name of the disability that caused her to walk funny.  She didn't use an assistive device so I couldn't say "the lady with the cane". (Which the letter-writer in the Miss Manners letter above would object to, but at least isn't coming across as an attempt to define the person - it's similar to "the lady in the red shirt" or "the lady carrying the iguana".) She wasn't the only one with a disability so I couldn't describe her as "the one with a disability" (which also sounds bad now that I say it out loud). I can do a fair imitation of her walk (which isn't appropriate in the workplace, obviously) but I can't describe it in useful google keywords.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this. On one hand, I want to propose a rule that grants leeway in situations where a superficial description is genuinely more useful and/or is all you could reasonably be expected to provide. On the other hand, that sounds perilously close to people who say racist things and then argue that it isn't fair that they're being thought of as racist.  And I don't want to be one of those people.  But I do want to be able to accurately describe the worker who helped me, even when I don't know his name.

*Update: karin points out on twitter  that I could have identified him as "South Asian" and it would have done the job.  I was initially reluctant to do so because of the possibility that he might be Middle Eastern (my dentist, for example, is from Iran and has the same colouring), but I now see that "South Asian" would still have communicated his colouring, and worst case they just have a good laugh at the ignorant white girl, rather than using slurs or referring to anyone by the ethnicity of one of their culture's historic enemies.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Things They Should Study: does sibling resemblance run in the family?

I recently saw a picture of a large family where all the children are blond, and my first thought was that it was kind of creepy but I couldn't articulate why.  After some thought, I realized it's because I'm not accustomed to seeing a whole family of blonds.  All the blonds in my own family, as well as nearly every blond kid whose siblings I knew growing up (I can only think of one exception), have at least one brunette sibling.

Siblings tend not to resemble each other especially closely in my own family.  My sister and I don't share colouring, shape, bone structure, or any distinguishing features.  Among my relatives, siblings who share colouring don't share bone structure, and siblings who share features have them in different colours. If you put us all together collectively you can see that some people might be related to others, but you'd never be able to tell who is siblings with whom.

And yet, siblings with strong resemblances do exist.  And sometimes, like with the family of eerily similar blonds, all the siblings in a given family resemble each other.

It would be interesting to see if there's some kind of genetic reason why some families have strong sibling resemblance and others don't.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Teach me about self-cleaning ovens

I only recently noticed (after living here for five years) that my oven is self-cleaning.  And just the other day I spilled a significant amount of food in it (turns out "bake uncovered" doesn't mean "bake covered"!)  So I'm considering using the self-cleaning feature.

Anything I should know?  I know that it heats the oven up really hot until the spilled food apparently just flakes right off or something.  Do I need to supervise it?  Does it get smelly?  Any does or don'ts?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Teach me how to make my taskbar behave

I'm using Windows 7, and I have a few of my most commonly-used programs "pinned" to my taskbar, just to the right of the Start button.

Previously, when I'd open one of these programs, it the pinned icon would disappear.  It would kind of turn into the active taskbar button.

However, this hasn't been happening lately.  Now, the icons continue to appear next to the start button in addition to the taskbar buttons.

Here's a screenshot of my taskbar:

I have Firefox, Sims and iTunes open, and the buttons for those programs appear to the right of the pinned icons.  Previously, the pinned icons would have turned into buttons, so the icons and the buttons would not both have been present at once.

How do I make it go back to the way it was before, or what can I google to find it out?  What's the proper name of this icons turning into buttons phenomenon?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Plot hole in my childhood

I've blogged before about my most vivid memory from the single year I did at Montessori school.  I wanted to play with these beads, but the teacher told me I couldn't because I couldn't count to ten.  This confused and frightened me.  I genuinely thought I knew how to count to 100, so I didn't understand why this teacher was telling me I didn't know how to count to 10.  How could I be so wrong about my own ability to count? 

Looking at it with adult hindsight, I see that she expected me to respond by showing her I could count to 10 by counting to 10 then and there.  However, as a 3 or 4 year old child, I wasn't able to draw that conclusion.  I thought she was telling me that my counting wasn't good enough.  Which baffled me - I got to 10 every time, I used the same numbers every time, I could carry on past 10 all the way to a hundred, the numbers followed the same pattern all the way through, how could I be wrong?

In my previous tellings of this story, I criticized the teacher for not being able to make it clear to me what she expected.  If you're an adult in a conversation with a 3 year old, it's primarily incumbent on you to communicate in a way that the kid can understand.  Especially if you're an early childhood educator!

However, there's another, even more egregious problem here: why didn't she take this opportunity to teach me how to count to 10?

You're an adult and a teacher.  You're faced with a small child who needs to be able to count to 10 to play with the toy she really really wants to play with.  You believe this child does not know how to count to 10.  So why not take 30 seconds of your life and teach the child how to count to 10?

What kind of teacher says "Oh, you don't know that" in a blamey tone of voice and walks away rather than teaching???

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How to conduct a garbage audit for plastic bags

From time to time, news coverage of discussions of plastic bags contains the results of various garbage audits, where they look at a sample of garbage and see how many plastic bags are in it.   These numbers are often used to support the author's thesis about which measures do and don't help, but I find that the garbage audits I see cited tend to be less thorough - and therefore less useful - than they  need to be.

Here are the questions a plastic bag garbage audit needs to answer in order to be truly informative:

- How many shopping bags are being used as garbage bags?  These would likely be replaced with garbage bags if shopping bags were banned, and therefore would not be eliminated from the total landfill plastic.

- How many garbage bags are there in total (including shopping bags being used as garbage bags)?  If the audit counts shopping bags being used as garbage bags, it also needs to count garbage bags being used as garbage bags.  If there's a reduction in the number of shopping bags but a corresponding increase in the number of garbage bags, banning shopping bags didn't change anything.

- How full are the garbage bags?  I empty my kitchen garbage every day, for a minimum of 365 garbage bags a year.  They aren't always full, I just don't leave food waste overnight for sanitary reasons.  If a significant percentage of garbage bags aren't full, the smaller shopping bags would actually be a better choice because there would be less plastic.

- What is the total quantity of plastic?  Remember how plastic grocery bags got bigger when they introduced the five cent fee?  Suppose I was using 400 bags a year for my garbage before they got bigger (because I occasionally have more than one bag of garbage).  Then suppose the new, bigger bags are always big enough for my garbage needs, so I'm using 365 a year.  If the new ones are 20% bigger, that's actually the equivalent of 438 of the old bags, so I'm throwing out more plastic.  If, in the future, I'm forced to use the even-larger kitchen catchers, that's even more plastic being thrown out.

- How many plastic bags are in the recycling stream? Sometime after we started talking about plastic bags, I became aware that plastic bags are recyclable.  I don't know offhand if they first became recyclable then or if they were already recyclable and I just found out then, but the fact of the matter is that awareness of their recyclability has increased in recent years. If there are, say, 100 fewer bags in the landfill but 100 more bags in recycling, nothing has changed in terms of what we throw out.  Obviously it's better for things to be recycled than to go in the landfill, but you can't claim a reduction in usage if the same things are just being recycled now.

- What is the condition of plastic bags that are in the landfill or recycling but not being used as garbage bags?  I have heard some people complain that they hate plastic bags because they rip.  This is not my experience.  However, regardless, it would be informative to see how many of the plastic bags not being used as garbage bags have ripped. If, for example, 87% of the thrown-out bags have ripped, that suggests we have a high reuse rate and people aren't throwing them out as trash unless they can't be reused normally.  It might be worth investigating whether it would be more efficient to manufacture higher-quality bags.  (Obviously they take up  more resources to manufacture and have more plastic in them so there's a tipping point in here somewhere, but it should be looked into if it turns out to be applicable.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Holding babies

If you have a baby,  it is, quite literally, the most valuable and precious thing in the world to you.  Babies are also very breakable.  Especially when they're newborns, clumsiness could kill them.

This is why, if you think about it, it's surprising that parents let people hold their babies.

Not all parents let people hold their babies, of course, and not all babies tolerate being held by randoms.  But if a friend or relative or immediate co-worker has a baby, it's certainly not unreasonable to think that they might let you hold the baby.

It almost seems to be part of the normal introduction process.  If the parent expects you to be a long-term presence in the baby's life, they'll hand you the baby to hold so you can get to know each other.  But I've also had people let me hold babies because I thought the baby was cute.  I've had people let me hold babies because the baby keeps staring at me. I've had people hand me their baby because they know I'm childfree and want to see what happens when you make the CFer hold a baby (answer: baby holds onto my hair like a little monkey and/or starts crying, I babble like an idiot and/or stick out my tongue). There even a picture of me, not yet three years old, holding my newborn sister for the sole reason that my parents thought it would make a cute picture.

All of this works fantastically as a social lubricant, but, if you think about it, it's really rather high stakes.  Is there any other social lubricant where you surrender your immediate ability to protect what is most valuable and precious to you?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Post your Sitemeter alternatives here

My Sitemeter hasn't been working for weeks, my email to them hasn't been answered, and I can't find any status information.  So I've decided it's time for an alternative.

I'm looking for not just a hit counter, but something that gives me link and search engine referrals.  Anyone have any recommendations?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is it legal to steal back something that was stolen from you?

Recently in the news: a guy finds his stolen bike and steals it back.

I wonder if that's legal?

He accosted the guy who was riding the bike and demanded that he hand over the bike.  I think, technically, that's mugging. If the guy riding the bike wasn't actually the thief and had just bought the bike on craigslist or something (he said his friend gave him the bike), he might have no idea it was stolen. And suddenly some guy drives up in a car and insists that he hand over his bike?

In this particular case, they were certain that it was the right bike because the serial number matched the police report.  But if he hadn't been certain, if he hadn't been able to check the serial number immediately, this could have been a mugging.

In the article, the police say he shouldn't have approached Bike Guy and should have called the police instead, citing personal safety.  But what's the actual legal status here?  Is it legal to steal back something that was stolen from you?  Is it legal to coerce, intimidate, or threaten someone into returning something that was stolen from you?  What if you break into someone's home to steal back what is rightfully yours?  And what if the guy on the bike wasn't the thief?  What if he had actually bought the bike on craigslist or something?  Is it illegal to have stolen property in your possession even if you didn't steal it yourself?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Ahh Bra is good for sleep, but not recommended for everyday

At the more sensitive parts of my cycle, I like to wear a bra to sleep.  I'd always used old sports bras for this purpose, but they've gotten stretched out enough that they're useless even as sleep bras.  So I was once again in the market for something wireless and not too confining, but also not too expensive.  I saw the Ahh Bra advertised on TV and thought it was basically the right idea, and I was able to find one on eBay for under $5, so I decided to give it a try.

It is extremely comfortable and holds everything reasonably in place without being too confining, so it's ideal for sleep.  It fulfilled the need for which I purchased it and I certainly feel I got my money's worth given the very low price I paid for it.

However, I do not recommend it for everyday wear.  I didn't feel sufficiently supported in it for daytime wear (my first instinct was to fold my arms under my breasts), even though my breasts didn't end up moving as much as I felt like they were going to.  It also does nothing for my figure.  I don't know if it compresses the breasts or if it's just the shape they land in, but my bustline certainly looks smaller than it does in a regular bra or even without a bra.  I also found that the material of the cups is too thin to disguise the nipples in a white shirt, which is the whole reason why I started wearing bras back when I was 11 in the first place.

I should add, as context, that I like wearing a bra.  Based on the advertising, the target audience of the Ahh Bra seems to be people who find it irritating to wear a bra.  It might still be a useful product for the target audience because it is, quite literally, better than nothing.  It provides some support, and it has none of the characteristics that, the commercials claim, make bras annoying.  It would be comfortable enough for my 11-year-old self, who absolutely hated having a band around her ribs, although it doesn't obscure the nipples enough to meet her needs.

If you want lift, shape, support, or modesty for everyday wear, this is not for you.  If you want a sleep bra without regard for appearance, or otherwise want to limit your breasts' range of motion without wire or tight elastics, this may be for you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New Rules: natural consequences edition

1. People who talk about marriage as though it's something a person can do unilaterally should be forced to marry the last person they dumped. If they haven't dumped anyone, they should be forced to marry the last person they rejected, even if it's that homeless guy who shouts crude suggestions at everybody.

2. Everyone who says "can't you take a joke?" is deducted one good laugh from their life for every time they utter that phrase.

3. People who disparage others' preferences with "it's only a phase" are banned from indulging their own equivalent preferences until the alleged phase is over. For example, someone who says that your being childfree is only a phase is banned from having children until you do (or, if they already have children, they're banned from having grandchildren). Someone who says that my being vegetarian is only a phase is banned from eating meat until I do. Someone who disparages their kid's taste in music is prohibited from listening to their own favourite music until their kid's taste changes.

4.  People who state as a given that something exists without providing a suitable concrete example are banned from using their equivalent of the something until their interlocutor gets the promised something.  For example, someone who says "There must be plenty of jobs for someone with your skill set" (or even someone who says "Just get a job" as though you can just get a job) is banned from enjoying the financial and social benefits of having job until their interlocutor finds a job.  Someone who says of their friend's relationship "You can do better" is banned from having any sort of sexual or romantic relationship until someone enters their friend's life who is better (by the friend's definition) and is interested in a relationship with the friend.  The people who criticized It Gets Betters that advised moving to the city are required to live with all the hell of adolescence until the it gets better for the rural kid who's reading It Gets Better.

5. Adults who refer to kids as "little" when the kid doesn't want to be referred to that way are to be treated with exactly as much respect as they have for the child in question for the next 24 hours. (This was inspired by a relative who referred to her children's friends as "their little friends" even when the friends in question were all in their teens.)

Things They Should Invent: teach emergency response in school

Every once in a while there's a newspaper article saying that not enough people know CPR.

So why don't they teach it in school as part of required health classes?

I learned mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in swimming lessons.  I learned some first aid, some fire safety stuff including the theoretical part of how to use a fire extinguisher and some stuff about calling 911 in a baby-sitting course I took when I was 12 (and you had to be at least 12 to take this course).   I learned RICE and such for sports injuries in one of my middle school health classes. I took first aid and CPR training when I was 17 (and you had to be at least 17 to take this course).

But why not teach all this stuff in Grade 7 or 8 health class, at a point in the school career where everyone is still required to take the class?  I don't know why you have to be 17 for formal first aid courses (or had to 14 years ago) - it seems well within the reach of a young teen.  So teach everyone first aid and CPR, how to use a fire extinguisher and what you should and shouldn't to do put out a fire if you don't have a fire extinguisher, things you  need to know about calling 911 (What information do they need in what order?  If I'm out of town and call 911 from my Toronto cellphone, do I get connected to the local 911 or to Toronto 911?  If you don't speak English, what exactly should you say or do to get them to connect you to an interpreter?), what to do if you're in a car accident (even as a passenger), what to do if someone ingests poison - basically all the helpful information people need to know to handle emergency situations.

If everyone learned all this early on, we'd have a whole society that knows how to respond in an emergency.  Surely this is more useful than all the naming of parts that we had to do in middle school health class.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Plot hole in the 6th season of How I Met Your Mother

I've just finished catching up with Season 6 of How I Met Your Mother, and there's a major plot hole in the whole season.

In Season 6, Episode 5, Architect of Destruction, Ted develops a crush on Zoey, who is protesting the new building he's designing because it will require tearing down the Arcadian.  So Ted comes up with a design that incorporates the Arcadian's facade.  Then, when he learns Zoey is married, he throws out the design that incorporates the facade.

However, Zoey continues to cause trouble for Ted's client throughout the season, getting them bad press and putting the completion of the building at risk.

So why doesn't Ted ever offer his client the design that incorporates the facade?