Sunday, April 29, 2012

Best story ever

A while back, I stumbled upon a blog by a woman who was raised in a fundamentalist christian household and grew up to marry a minister and have lots of children in quick succession.  I found the author sympathetic and engaging, and was soon reading it regularly because I was just so interested in a life that's so different from my own. 

This blogger has recently posted the most amazing story - and the most romantic real-life love story - I've ever heard of. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, start to finish.

How to cool the Ontario housing market without hurting ordinary people

Recently in the news: Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney wants to cool the housing market.

This made me think of subsection 6(2) of the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act, which states:

(2)  Sections 104, 111, 112, 120, 121, 122, 126 to 133, 165 and 167 do not apply with respect to a rental unit if,
(a) it was not occupied for any purpose before June 17, 1998;
(b) it is a rental unit no part of which has been previously rented since July 29, 1975; or
(c) no part of the building, mobile home park or land lease community was occupied for residential purposes before November 1, 1991. 2006, c. 17, s. 6 (2).
Section 120 of the ORTA applies to the guideline rent increase, which means that properties that were built or started being rented out after 1998/1975/1991 (as applicable) are exempt from the rent increase guideline, and the landlords can raise the rent by however much they want.

So to cool the housing market, they should either remove this exemption, or place a time limit on it like there was in 1992.

From the point of view of an ordinary person hoping to break into the housing market simply to purchase a place to live in, the problem with the housing market is investors. They have lots of money and go in buying up condos en masse to rent out and perhaps later flip, taking them away from those of us who need to be prudent and evaluate a unit from the perspective of "How would I feel about pouring my life's savings into this and living here for the rest of my life?"

If the exemption from the guideline rent increase is eliminated, rental properties will be less attractive investments. It wouldn't make them completely unattractive investments, but a limit in how much you can increase rent where no such limit existed before should cool the market a bit by making investors more cautious.

But this will not make condos any less appealing to ordinary buyers looking for a home for themselves.  It will simply take some of the investors out of the market and leave more units for the rest of us.

It will also have the advantage of improving long-term affordability of newer (and therefore better-quality and more energy-efficient) rental housing, thereby making better housing more accessible for everyone.

Metro has changed its cash registers for the worse

Metro recently changed their cash register software.  Previously, when a sale item was scanned, the regular price and the discount showed up on the screen immediately.  Now, the discounts don't show up until all the items have been rung in.

This is a problem.  It's no longer possible for a cashier to scan an item to see if it's on sale, or for customers to check that what they think on sale is in fact on sale until all the items are scanned and packed. And if it turns out the item isn't actually on sale and you don't want it (or don't want as many) at the full price, the process of unscanning and returning them will take even longer if left to the end of the checkout process.

This must also be annoying for the cashiers.  I wouldn't be surprised if, several times a day, customers go "Wait, I thought that was on sale!" and the cashier has to stop what they're doing and reassure the customer that it is in fact on sale and the discount will show up at the end of the transaction.  And I'm sure some more demanding customers won't be happy with that explanation and arguments will ensue. 

This change has no appreciable benefits and causes mild to moderate annoyance and inconvenience for everyone involved.  I have no idea what Metro was thinking when they introduced this system, but I hope it's undoable.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Who are these people and why do they live in Toronto?

I know Rob Ford. He is a far more tolerant individual than many of the people attacking him. Ford’s problem isn’t homophobia, nor does he have a hidden agenda to take away gay rights. His concern is that his participation in a Pride event, particularly the parade, will tick off his political base. But Ford needs to remember his base consists of a lot more people than social conservatives.” - Adrienne Batra, former press secretary
The precedent of the Mayor of Toronto participating in Pride is over 20 years old.  If there are in fact people who are so vexed by a mayor doing this part of the mayor's job that they wouldn't vote for that person for the job of mayor, why are they still living here?  Nearly everywhere else has a smaller, quieter Pride (and there are probably still some smaller towns that don't have a Pride).  Surely they'd be more comfortable elsewhere?

Friday, April 27, 2012

What if Barrett's esophagus isn't actually a problem?

I previously came up with the idea that medical science should come up with a way to install stomach lining in the esophagus to protect it against acid reflux.

In some reading I was doing today, I discovered that the changes to the esophagus that constitute Barrett's esophagus are actually making it closer to stomach lining than to esophageal lining.

So what if Barrett's esophagus isn't a problem?  What if it's just the esophageal equivalent of a callous?

The reason why Barrett's esophagus is even a thing is that it's considered a precancerous condition, in that a large percentage of esophageal cancer patients have Barrett's esophagus.  Because of this, a diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus triggers a more active esophageal cancer screening protocol.

But I really am beginning to suspect that Barrett's esophagus itself isn't actually a problem, it's just a correlation.  Fortunately, science does seem to be working in that direction.  Most of the papers I see recently emphasize how few Barrett's esophagus patients (usually stated at only 1%) go on to develop esophageal cancer, and science does seem to be looking at it as correlation instead of causation.  Hopefully researchers will focus on better pinpointing the actual root cause that differentiates that 1% within the next 10 years and spare me any unnecessary scoping.

Mnemonic wanted

Does anyone know a mnemonic for correctly identifying when to use "consist of" and when to use "consist in"?

I know the theoretical difference between the two.  "Consist of" is "to be made up of"; "consist in" is "to have as its main or essential part".  The problem is that every single time I try to apply that logic to a sentence, including the sentences used by credible reference books as examples for "consist in", my logic comes up with "the meaning there is clearly "to be made up of", therefore the correct answer is "consist of."

Anyone know any tricks for landing on the right answer when you're at a philosophical impasse?

Monday, April 23, 2012

How M 3-12 is setting back all of society

The real problem with M 3-12 is encapsulated in this image:

I've recently been working on my primary client's two most important projects of the year.  There are some awkward-to-translate phrases that keep popping up, and I'd really like to reflect and brainstorm on them and come up with something that sounds smooth and idiomatic in English to improve my client's credibility in the eyes of the English-language audience they're trying to convince.

I heard on the radio this morning that Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney thinks the housing market needs to be cooled.  My shower gave me a few ideas that might actually cool the housing market without harming ordinary citizens and would solve some other problems that exist in the Toronto housing market at the same time, and I really want to get that refined and blogged.

I've been reading about various strategies used in schools today to make kids less inclined to bully, and I think some of them might not work and might actually do more harm than good.  I want to sit down and work on explaining my child-self's visceral "That won't work!" using my adult articulateness and post it here so the people with the ability to change anti-bullying programs can google upon it and keep it in mind when refining their programs.

But I don't have the time and mental energy to give to all these things, because I have to give that time and energy to fighting for the same scope of medical care that was available to my mother when she was my age.  My mother!  Who is old enough to collect CPP!

When reading the first few paragraphs of this post, you were probably thinking "So what? That's nothing special.  Everyone has ideas that they want to work on and perfect."

And that's my point exactly.

Everyone has a few ideas in their head that they want to work on.  Most people probably have more than I do, since I'm so far on the introvert side of the scale.  We think about these ideas, let them fester, brainstorm, journal, talk them over, try things out, and eventually arrive at something that's new or innovative or an improvement on the status quo or otherwise helps make our little corner of the world better.  That's how society progresses.

But now that we suddenly have to put all this time and energy and effort into a tedious rehashing of what was settled a generation ago, we have less time and energy and effort to put into the new and improved and innovative.  And this is slows down the progress we make as a society.

Simple demographics show that the majority of Canadians are potentially affected by or care about whether abortion is available when needed.  Even if you are one of the few who isn't affected and doesn't care, you can still see how it will slow us down to have so many people have to drop everything and focus on the old and redundant.

 With some regularity, the news reports that Canada has to improve its productivity and innovation.  How can we be expected to do this when those in power keep forcing us to rehash the same old thing?  This is detrimental to everyone, regardless if they'll ever need to end a pregnancy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How to make me hate a new condo in my neighbourhood

I've always been baffled by the trend of dissing condos, and enthusiastically embraced every condo they've built in my neighbourhood in the near-decade I've lived here. They're homes! For people! My neighbourhood is awesome, so I'm glad that more people will get to enjoy it. What makes my neighbourhood awesome is that its density allows all kinds of different businesses and amenities to thrive here, so more people will create more demand and lead to even more new and interesting businesses and amenities. And, on top of all this, one of those condos might end up being just right for me.

But I was rather pissed off when I saw signage today suggesting that this is actually getting built. So why does this one condo piss me off when all the other thrill me? Because of the following quote from the developer, taken from the article linked above:

“What a ratty block of what I consider to be one of the premier addresses in the city,” says Mr. Sonshine.

The architecture of that "ratty block" isn't particularly ratty. It's your standard 19th century Yonge St. lowrises and doesn't deserve to be maligned any more than any other part of the city does. But, more importantly, the content of that "ratty block" is an integral part of my neighbourhood. I use the businesses and amenities in that block all the time, and they're a key part of my sense of "I love this neighbourhood, it has everything!"

All the other condos, including the much-NIMBYed Minto towers, have presented the neighbourhood as a feature. But (as demonstrated by the article as a whole, not just that one quote), this developer seems to have less respect for the existing neighbourhood, seeing it as something to be knocked down and built over. And if they don't respect our neighbourhood, will they do anything to find a home for our local pub in the new development? Or the used bookstore? Or the kitchen store? Or that one video store that's actually good? Losing these businesses would make our neighbourhood less convenient, which is a major blow in a neighbourhood that we chose for its convenience. All of this makes me - a pro-condo neighbourhood resident - inclined to oppose the building.

And it also makes me - in the market for a condo in the neighbourhood - disinclined to even consider buying from this developer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

More information please: why do people who think catechism is inappropriate for children send their kids to Catholic school

Recently in the news: parents who are opposed to a Catholic school brochure that describes homosexuals as "objectively disordered". My (and, likely, many others') first reaction was to roll my eyes. The "objectively disordered" wording comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So my first thought was "If you don't like the teaching of the Catholic church maybe you shouldn't be sending your kids to Catholic school!" But this is a glaringly obvious question - the first one that comes to mind when one recognizes or learns that the objectionable phrase is taken directly from catechism. So why did the reporter not ask that question and put the answer in the article? It does mention in passing that one of the mothers is Catholic, but that actually raises more question than it answers. If she's Catholic, she's more likely to already be familiar with the catechism, which means that she's identifying with this religion despite the fact that it considers her "objectively disordered". But she doesn't consider this teaching of the religion she identifies with appropriate for her kids? What leads a person to lead their life in such a self-contradictory way? It makes the parents look foolish to present these contradictions without explanations, and the Star is doing them a disservice by printing this story without answering these questions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Things They Should Study: most essential petroleum derivatives

I previously theorized that we should stop using petroleum for fuel so that our planet's limited petroleum reserves will be available for plastic. After all, lots of important things (computers, sterile medical equipment, hygienic food packaging) are made of plastic.

Someone should study and quantify this. Which things that are made of plastics and other petroleum derivatives most need to be made of these non-renewable materials? Do we even have a way to manufacture computers or keep syringes sterile without plastic? Is it possible but unwieldly? Is it possible and reasonably user-friendly but expensive? Or are there whole functionalities that we'd lose out on without plastic?

Now that I think about it, they could do this with fuel too. Electric cars are possible, renewable power generation is possible, but do we even have a renewable option for jet fuel? If so, how feasible is it?

Once they've done all the research and quantified everything, they can put it all in order of the importance of petroleum to the product and the importance of the product to society, and we'll have a better idea of whether we're really making the best use of our non-renewable resources. They could also use this information to target research into finding renewable replacement for petroleum derivatives. If, for example, there's some key medical application for which we don't yet have any alternative, maybe they should work on that first.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Random thoughts on Downton Abbey and noblesse oblige

1. Some people have criticized Downton Abbey for having the nobility be kindly and decent towards their servants, saying that this didn't reflect real-life conditions for many servants at the time. However, the Crawleys' sense of noblesse oblige does have an enormous advantage in this work of fiction, in that it allows other stories to be told. A cruel relationship between the nobles and the servants would be the primary conflict, and therefore that story would insist upon being told. And this story would have to be told at the expense of the smaller stories we all enjoy like the courtship of Anna and Bates, Gwen's attempts to become a secretary, or the day Mrs. Hughes' old beau came back and proposed. It wouldn't be Downton Abbey then, it would be Dickens. And if we wanted Dickens, we'd read Dickens.

Harry Potter wouldn't work the way it does if Hogwarts was an abusive boarding school or if Harry hadn't promptly made good friends. Ugly Betty wouldn't work the way it does if Betty's family wasn't supportive. And Downton Abbey wouldn't work the way it does if the Crawleys were cruel to their servants.

2. I previously came up with the idea of teaching noblesse oblige in school. Because presenting it as a Thou Shalt isn't going to work, I suggested that it should be explained as background information to a novel read in class. Downton Abbey isn't a novel, but it is a work of fiction where noblesse oblige could be presented as background information. Of course, the questions remain of how it would fit into the curriculum, and whether there are any characters that would be appealing enough to students for them to want to emulate.

3. The village of Downton has a small hospital, which is funded by the Crawleys. But the Crawleys' estate would be broke if it weren't for the fact that the Earl married a rich American. So if he hadn't been able to find a rich wife ~30 years ago, the people of Downton wouldn't have a hospital today.

There are some people in real life who think public services shouldn't exist and charity should fill the need instead. This is a good example of the flaws in that plan.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fishing with bait in Sims 3

Since a game update a few months ago, it's been impossible to fish with bait in Sims 3. The Sim will walk up to the water, and the fishing action will just end without any fishing happening.

I've just discovered that, if your Sim is capable of fishing in a swimming pool (i.e. they're a child or have the childish or insane traits), they can fish with bait in the swimming pool. However, I still don't know how to make them fish with bait in regular water, or to get the people in charge of game updates to fix this problem.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Socially awkward penguin moments

1. Guy behind the counter hands me my pizza. "Enjoy your lunch," he says. "Thanks," I reply, "You too!"

2. The guy in the elevator is small-talking me, in a way that makes me think he's practising his English. However, his dog is adorable, so I take it as price of admission for petting the dog.

"What do you do?" he asks me, as the dog sniffs my hand.
"I'm a translator," I reply, scratching the dog behind the ears as her tail wags furiously. "What do you do?"
"I'm a dog-walker," he answers.

I think that's the first time I've ever asked anyone what they did while they were actually doing their job before my very eyes!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why would you throw puppies in the garbage, even if you are cruel and heartless?

In the news today, some guy put a bunch of puppies in a suitcase and threw them in the garbage. (Happy ending, adorable pictures.)

I don't understand why a person would do this. And by that I don't mean that I can't imagine being cruel to puppies (although that's true too). What I mean is, even if you take disrespect or hatred for puppies as a given, I don't understand why you'd do it this particular way.

If you're too lazy to take them to a proper shelter and don't care if the dogs survive, why not put them outside and close the door, leaving them to their own devices?

If you want to kill them, why not kill them? Why abandon them somewhere where you won't be able to get whatever pleasure killers get of watching them die yourself?

If, for whatever reason, it is important to you to throw them in the garbage, why go to all the trouble of putting them in a suitcase first? Putting six puppies in a suitcase sounds difficult.

If you're trying to avoid other people finding out that you're getting rid of puppies, why not let them loose? They might wander off or chase a squirrel or be picked up by someone who's in the market for a puppy, and end up somewhere where they can't be traced back to you. Or, if they do hang out near your home even though you've let them loose, you can claim that they could have come from anywhere and chased a squirrel over here, and you don't know anything about them.

Or, as my co-worker pointed out, why not post an ad on Craigslist saying "Puppies for sale"? People actually pay significant money for dogs!

Putting them in a suitcase in the garbage is a sub-optimal way of achieving whatever the goal of someone who would do that sort of thing might be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Notes on comments

1. Some people were unhappy that the email follow-up comments option disappeared. It seems to have re-appeared for me when I enter the comments already logged into my Blogger account. Is it back for you too? (I didn't actually do anything, it just showed up).

2. Blogger's spam filter has recently sent a couple of perfectly legitimate anonymous comments into my spam folder. I restored the comments in question, and I'll have a look at my spam folder whenever I'm looking at my comments (although I don't check comments every day). However, I'm reluctant to turn off the spam filter, because it catches huge quantities of actual spam. Anonymous comments are still welcome, but you might have better luck getting through with one of the other options. If you check "Name/URL" (which is right above "Anonymous"), you can enter the name of your choice, including Anonymous.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Why would you want to spend advertising money to encourage people to pray anyway?

Recently in the news, TTC ads telling a (fictional) child of drug users that they should pray as a solution to their problems.

I have to assume that the people placing these ads think they're altruistic, because whether or not people pray have no possible impact on the advertisers or their church. They must think that praying will help people, so they're taking out these ads encouraging people to pray.

But people who are able to pray - which probably includes everyone for whom invoking Jesus would be effective - are already aware that prayer is an option. And those who aren't aware that prayer is an option (and are open to a new religion) wouldn't know how or why to pray.

Therefore, this ad doesn't tell anyone anything they don't already know, while not telling those who it wishes to take action how to take action.

Why would you spend money on that?


I also just noticed that the "child" in the ads is saying "Dear Jesus" and "Thank you for hearing my prayer". Which means that they're already praying! So the ad responds to a prayer by telling the kid to pray? That's a wee bit assholic.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Further analogy for why "demisexual" is problematic

I blogged before about why I dislike the term "demisexual". The analogy I made in that post (what if parents of only one child were described as semi-parents?) is likely effective for communicating why the term is problematic to people to whom the term doesn't apply, but today in the shower I realize it isn't quite apt for those of us to whom the term does apply, because of its focus on the idea of having fewer partners than average. The number of partners is less important (to the analogy and to the concept) than the nature of the relationship.

So here's another analogy that reflects that:

Some people really like to have home-made, sit-down meals. They like to choose fresh, organic, high-quality ingredients, prepare multiple dishes from scratch, set the table, sit down, and savour.

Not everyone does that. It takes work and it takes time. You aren't going to get your dinner as quickly or multi-taskably as someone who is content to scarf down whatever's handy while catching up on Twitter. For those of us who are happy to scarf down whatever's handy, it sounds downright tedious and rather old-fashioned, and we bristle if anyone suggests we should change our perfectly contented lifestyle and start preparing full sit-down dinners when prepared foods and pre-made salads and take-out are readily available.

But no one would ever suggest that the people who like to prepare full sit-down meals have any less interest, enthusiasm, or passion for food.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

When Google is very good at its job

1. There's a bacterium whose name reminds me of the phrase "helicopter pilot", but I couldn't remember its name. So I googled helicopter pilot bacteria. Second search result: helicobacter pylori.

2. They invented a new musical instrument recently, but I couldn't remember its name. All I remembered was that when I first saw it, I thought "That looks like a keytar mated with a bassoon." So I googled looks like a keytar mated with a bassoon. First search result: Eigenharp.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How to teach literary analysis: don't let students read ahead

As I've blogged about before, I hated and was terrible at literary analysis when I was in school. Despite getting respectable grades in lit classes in three languages, I just didn't feel that analysis added anything to the reading experience or understand what on earth it achieves apart from giving us fodder for academic essays. I'm done the story, why dissect it so tediously?

I didn't start to truly grok literary analysis until I entered the Harry Potter fandom. I started reading Harry Potter shortly before the fifth book, and people on fan sites were using literary analysis to figure out what would happen later in the series. That made far better sense to me: we're looking for clues to solve a mystery!

Back in school, as a diligent student and a voracious reader, I'd always read ahead in the books we were studying. But my Harry Potter experience made me realize that this actually made learning how to do literary analysis more difficult for me. I'd be far ahead of the chapter we were discussing in class and simply wouldn't care about dissecting it, I was more interested in finding out what would happen next. Or I might even be finished the book and on to the next while we're still discussing the early chapters, at which point I most often simply didn't care. I'm done the story, let's move on!

But in my Harry Potter fandom, we couldn't move on - the books we needed to move on hadn't been written yet! So we'd analyze instead. And it was fun! It was my happy place for years!

So how could this be duplicated in the classroom, to not only teach literary analysis but convey the purpose and pleasure of it?

My idea: don't let the students read ahead. Earlier on, in grades 9 and 10, this could take the form of not allowing the books to leave the classroom, and doing the actual reading (or perhaps listening to an audiobook and reading along) in the classroom as part of class time. Then, at the end of every chapter or at every logical break, go over discussion questions that are geared towards using analysis to figure out what happens next. The teacher would have to make it clear that you don't get points for guessing or knowing what will happen next, but rather for having a logical analysis. A thesis that turns out to be factually incorrect but is impeccably argued with the information on hand should get just as many points as a thesis that perfectly predicts the outcome. (This is a problem I had in school - some teachers liked it when departed from the standard interpretation and backed it up with cited evidence, but other teachers docked points for not coming up with the standard interpretation.) Once they've finished the book, the teacher could go back over what clues in the book should have made it possible to guess what was going to happen.

After doing one or two books manually in the classroom so students can learn what they're looking for, they wouldn't have to do all the actual reading in the classroom. Instead, they could move to a system where you simply have to answer some questions at the end of each chapter before reading the next one. This could even be achieved electronically - answer the questions on an online form that emails the answers directly to the teacher, and doing so unlocks the next chapter. This would enable diligent students and those who are enthusiastic about the subject matter to work ahead at their own pace rather than being held back by their peers. (I didn't have this option in high school. While I had the book and could read ahead - and, being a diligent student, did so - I had no idea what we'd be discussing in class so I couldn't keep an eye out for it. Then I had to go back over something I'd already read to look for symbolism etc., which made an already uninteresting process outright tedious.)

If they do this with several books over a period of years, gradually loosening restrictions on reading ahead, by the end of high school the students should get to a place where they're automatically noticing and questioning the right things as they read through, the same way that people notice clues and try to guess whodunnit when reading a mystery novel.

I know that literary analysis is not limited to figuring out what's going to happen, but focusing on what's going to happen next makes the subject matter far more interesting, relevant and compelling to those who aren't already interested. "Remus and Tonks are totally going to hook up - look at all the parallels in the scenes where they were introduced to Harry!" is far more interesting than "Let's compare and contrast the scenes where the supporting characters were introduced to Harry." It's the English-class equivalent of using casino games to teach concepts in stats class.