Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I was googling about various digestive-related things, and, since Google generally knows what I need and I don't always act like a grownup when no one is watching, I was phrasing my queries very childishly.  For example, "How long does it take food to turn into poo?"  (Answer: an average of 2 days)

I soon noticed that Google's autocomplete was always using phrases that contained the word "poop", not "poo". For example, if you type "My poo is" into Google, you'll get a drop down full of autocompletes saying "My poop is" every colour of the rainbow.

People who have done more research than me suggest that "poop" is USian, and "poo" is more British.  A google (which, I realize, is not the most precise research method ever) gives 298,000 hits for "poo" and 198,000 for "poop", so it seems that "poo" is more preferred in Canada.

However, even if you go to, the autocomplete still suggests "poop" when you type in "poo".  "Poop" also turns up in the and autocompletes. ( and retain "poo".)

Which one do you use?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reconstructing Shakespeare

Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend and I are having a disagreement. I posed to her the following hypothetical situation: Would you rescue from fire and certain destruction the last surviving copy on earth of the complete works of Shakespeare or a single puppy? My girlfriend says that she would rescue the puppy because the puppy is a fellow living being. She is highly educated and claims to have great respect for Shakespeare. But I think my girlfriend’s choice is the wrong one. I would rescue the Shakespeare, not just because of the aesthetic enjoyment we get from his work but also because of all the moral insight it provides us (including possibly the insight that enables the concept of animal rights in the first place). We’ve argued a lot about this. I cannot take her answer seriously, but I find it rather disturbing nonetheless. She never rejected the hypothetical question out of hand or said that the two things aren’t even comparable. She says that preserving a living conscious thing is more valuable than preserving Shakespeare. My girlfriend loves animals, especially her poodle, and is a die-hard vegetarian. I am, on the other hand, obsessed with Shakespeare and rather neutral toward animals. What is the best way for us to diffuse this situation?

A silly letter, to be sure.  But this got me thinking: if we lost all written copies of Shakespeare, could we reconstruct it?

Of course we could.  There are enough people wandering the earth right this minute with bits of Shakespeare memorized that we could get it back within a matter of hours.  Just reassemble all the most recent casts of every play, have them perform their parts, record and transcribe it, you'll be done before last call.

So let's make this harder: we've lost all written copies of Shakespeare, all living people have lost any knowledge or memory we've ever had of Shakespeare (to the extent that we don't even remember that we've lost it), and we've also lost all academic and educational works dedicated to the study and analysis of Shakespeare.  Could we reconstruct it?

We could certainly get a lot, because Shakespeare is everywhere.  The plot of Hamlet was reiterated in the Simpsons, Archie comics namedrop "wherefore art thou" and "to [verb] or not to [verb], that is the question", and Shakespeare is specifically mentioned in many works in all different kinds of media.

I even once read a young adult novel that explicitly stated that West Side Story is a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. So from that one book that I read in elementary school alone, the people of this mythical post-Shakespearean people will learn that there was once a play called Romeo and Juliet with a plot vaguely resembling that of West Side Story.  Surely there must be other works that specifically mention that something is from Shakespeare too.

This post-Shakespearean population would also quickly catch on to the fact that "wherefore art thou" and "to [verb] or not to [verb]" sound like they come from something, and that a guy talking to a skull and a guy with some kind of disability saying "my kingdom for a horse" are somehow existing tropes, and scholars would try to trace their origins.  I wonder how much they could reassemble?

Friday, August 23, 2013

A public apology to Eddie Izzard

Dear Eddie Izzard,

During one of your May 2010 shows at Massey Hall in Toronto, you asked the audience who or what Massey Hall was named after.  Various people shouted out various things, and, to our utter delight, you picked up on our answer of "Vincent Massey."  You asked who he was, we replied "Governor General", you asked what that was, we replied "Queen's representative", and then you segued neatly into your thoughts on the monarchy, pausing only to remark that some guy on the other side of the audience kept randomly shouting out "Tractors!"

I've only just learned we gave you completely incorrect information.  Vincent Massey was in fact Governor General of Canada, but in the 1950s.  Massey Hall was built in the 1890s, before Vincent Massey was even born. Its construction was funded by Hart Massey, Vincent Massey's grandfather, with a family fortune made by, among other things, manufacturing tractors.

I apologize unreservedly for giving you incorrect information and causing you to repeat it publicly as though it were fact.  All I can say is that it simply never occurred to us that Massey Hall might not be named after the most famous Massey, after whom so many other things are named.   Obviously I should have been more careful.  When we see you again in November, if you should choose to pose any questions to the audience, I promise to only answer if I'm certain, not if I just think I have a logical extrapolation from common knowledge.

I would also like to apologize profusely to the people who were saying "tractors".  You were completely right and we were completely wrong, and yet we stole your moment from you and made your Eddie Izzard experience less perfect. I truly do hope you'll be able to get your own moment in November.  Maybe Eddie will ask the same question again (it seems like the sort of thing that might be part of a standard show-opening arsenal), and you can give your answer and we'll all get a different choose your own adventure.

An idea for "Bad Guy Trying to be the Good Guy" in last week's Carolyn Hax chat

From last week's Carolyn Hax chat:
Several years ago, I abruptly and unilaterally ended an 18-month relationship. I stand firm with my reasons, but my (kind and lovely) ex was understandably upset. We haven't spoken since. I still feel guilty, but that's my cross to bear. Despite a happier relationship since then, I'm pretty sure that The Ex hates my guts. Here's the problem: in a few months, I expect to see The Ex at a mutual friend's event. Being in proximity will be unavoidable. I want to send The Ex an email, saying that I'm sorry how things ended and that I'd like us to be at least cordial at this event, and that I'm willing to keep my distance if they don't want to talk to me. Part of me thinks this is sensible and will allow both of us to enjoy this event without apprehension. The other part of me thinks this email will just sound condescending and melodramatic. What is the kindest way to approach this situation?
I have an idea for something LW can do to be kind to The Ex without imposing on them: don't bring a date to this event.

If The Ex is still in some way hung up on LW, seeing LW with a date will make the event more difficult for The Ex. Not bringing a date will eliminate that difficulty.

If The Ex in is an emotional place where they would get some schadenfreude out of seeing LW dateless, especially if The Ex has a date, then not bringing a date will give The Ex the gift of coming away from the event feeling that they won.

At this point, people usually point out something to the effect that other people's relationships aren't about you and it would be unhealthy for The Ex to be having any of these feelings.  But, be that as it may, they are feelings that do sometimes occur in some people.  If The Ex is having them, LW can give The Ex the best possible experience by not bringing a date.  And if The Ex isn't having any of these feelings, then LW's actions are irrelevant either way.  In any case, not bringing a date will have either a positive or neutral effect on The Ex, without imposing on them in any way.

On top of that, not bringing a date will attend to LW's emotional needs as well.  LW seems to feel the need to do some sort of penance.  Going to the event solo would do that, and it would be generally in line with a natural consequences penance too.  One of the impacts of LW's decision to abruptly and unilaterally leave The Ex is that The Ex was suddenly deprived of the benefits of having a date to wherever they'd normally go with a date. In addition to the various logistical inconveniences of going solo, it's publicly visible, and often feels like a humiliation when you're in mourning for the relationship and can't even answer the question of "What happened?"  So, by not having a date with them, LW experiences that inconvenience and public visibility, perhaps even that sense of humiliation depending on their emotional state.  Then they will come away feeling they have done penance without ever actually bothering The Ex.

In short, if LW doesn't bring a date to the event, any emotional needs that can be affected by LW's actions will be affected positively.  Anyone who has no emotional investment in LW's actions will not be affected either way.  Positive or neutral impact, no imposition or unwanted contact.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How spanking hurts

My parents spanked me when I was a child.

I haven't admitted that before because I'm painfully ashamed of it.  (So ashamed of it I can't bring myself to open comments on this post. If you circumvent this by using other posts, you will be banned.)  I've been sitting on this post for years, and could never bring myself to actually post it.

But yesterday, I saw a lady spanking her child. 

I wanted to run over and stop her.  I wanted to run over and tell her how it affected me, the unintended consequences that coloured my whole relationship with my parents and could have been disastrous if bad things had happened in other areas of my life.

But I was too chicken.

So, as penance for not stopping that lady's destructive habits, I'm going to lay bare my shame.  Here is what I learned from being spanked by my parents:

First, I learned that if someone is doing something you don't like, you should hit them.  Seemed logical.  But then I'd get in trouble if I hit someone else.  So what I learned from that is that my parents are great dirty hypocrites (although I didn't know that word yet). 

One problem with spanking specifically is that it's a smack to the bum.  Your bum is a private part - I learned that very early on.  People aren't supposed to touch your private parts, and if they do you're supposed to respond with "It's my body and I say NO!"  I learned that from a little orange book my parents read to me when I was probably under three years of age.  So the next time my parents wanted to spank me, I said "It's my body and I say NO!"  But that didn't stop the spanking.  From this, I learned that the rule about private parts being private wasn't actually true.  There was some kind of secret other rule that I didn't know and they wouldn't tell me.

For the majority of my life, I've had a sense that the actual rules of society aren't what I'm being taught they are or shown they are - there's a secret other set of rules that I'm left to guess without any guidance.  This feeling has hindered me for decades - sometimes to the extent where I'd receive clear, specific instructions from teachers or employers and automatically assume that wasn't actually what they wanted - and I'm quite sure at least part of its root is in spanking.

Because spanking violated at least two of the major rules I was taught, I concluded that my parents' rule system was inherently injust.  Therefore, I decided that whenever they issued a punishment that I considered injust, it was logical to punish them for it.  I would sabotage things in the house, return to the prohibited behaviour when I wasn't going to get caught, or otherwise stealthily do things that made life more difficult for my parents.  The possibility of punishment being a natural consequence of my actions never occurred to me - it was quite clearly an injustice that I had to counter. 

More importantly, because spanking violated at least two major rules, I concluded that my parents either enjoyed doing it, or enjoyed seeing me hurt and humiliated.  This meant I didn't tell them when someone else was hurting me or humiliating me.  The people hurting and humiliating me were my peers, but this statement would have held even if it was a teacher or other authority figure.  Because my parents had shown me that they like to engage in violent, unwanted, humiliating physical contact with my private parts, if another adult - or anyone at all, for that matter - had tried to touch my private parts in a way that was violent, unwanted, and/or humiliating, I would have assumed that my parents thought I deserved it (and perhaps would punish me even more for being someone who deserves it) so I would never have dared tell them and in fact would have taken active steps to keep it secret from them.  Fortunately, I never found myself in this situation, but, if I had, they results would have been disastrous.

In short, spanking completely eliminated my parents' trustworthiness and credibility in my eyes. It never once even occurred to me that they might want to protect me from outside threats.  It never once even occurred to me that they might have my best interests in mind.  It never once even occurred to me that there might be a good reason for any rules they set out.  It never once even occurred to me that if I was having a big problem with other adults I could go to them.  I never saw them as an ally, always as a threat or an obstacle.  All in the name of...what?  I don't even remember what the alleged infractions were that I was being spanked for in the first place!

I've told all this to a few people before, and one response I often get is "Kids don't think that way or draw such far-fetched conclusions."  So I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear: this is what my actual child-self actually thought and concluded, in real life, based on the input available. It's articulated here in more adult terms than I could express at the time to make it clearer, but it is the absolute truth of my child-self's thoughts, feelings and conclusions.  This isn't child psychology, this isn't parenting theory, this isn't social engineering, this isn't political correctness.  This is what an actual, real-life child actually learned, in real life, from being spanked.

Dear lady spanking your daughter on Roehampton Avenue, in front of the construction site, between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 17: are these the lessons you want to teach her?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pictures of text

I recently clicked on a trending topic hashtag related to some drama or another in teen pop music fandom (#beliebersareherefordirectioners - I didn't bother to look into what exactly happened to trigger the creation of that hashtag), and I noticed an interesting phenomenon. A huge percentage of the people using this hashtag were writing out fairly long messages in the Notes function on their iphone, then tweeting a screenshot of the message.  Here's the first example that came up when I searched for it just now.

This is fascinating.  This fandom is so entrenched in a medium that only allows for short textual messages that they use images of text to convey longer messages rather than switching to a more conducive medium.

We've seen this before, with the "we are the 99%" signs.  At the time I saw it described as a faster and easier alternative to videos, but it's still longer to produce and no less easy to read than actual text. And some people seem to use it quite often on facebook, sharing images of text - even if it's just a brief saying - rather than typing out the text as a whole, which in most cases would totally fit in a facebook status.

The beliebers obviously chose this method so they could share longer-form messages while achieving their goal of trending on twitter.  And I suspect the sharing mechanisms of facebook and tumblr are more conducive to sharing photos than straight-out text.  I also suspect some of the 99%ers were deliberately trying to add a human face to their stories, although others chose to obscure their faces.  In any case, the goal of sharability within the technical limitations of the social network seems to be great enough that it leads people to engage in the objectively ridiculous act of posting a picture of text rather than just typing out the text.

This has me wondering if someday someone is going to invent a new social media network with robust sharing functions that positions its niche as allowing you to share long-form text.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Brother DCP-7060D: a printer that works

I previously bought an inkjet printer simply because I needed a printer-scanner combo immediately and that was the cheapest one readily available that was small enough to comfortably carry home.  However, it quickly became apparent that a laser printer would be a better fit for my needs, so I decided that when the inkjet ran out of ink, I'd rehome it and replace it with a laser printer.

I looked through the Consumer Reports recommendations for all-in-one laser printers (fun fact: you can access the Consumer Reports subscriber website with your Toronto Public Library card! All you have to do is log in through here!) and a lot of them were huge.  The smallest one (and only one with a remote chance of fitting into the space where I needed it to fit) was the Brother DCP-7060D.  It turned out there was an incredibly good deal on it on NewEgg, so I bought it.

I've had it for a month, and I love it because it does its job exactly right every single time with no fussing or drama!  I plug it into the computer, the USB detects it and installs the drivers and it's ready to go without any intervention on my part. I press print, it prints. I want two-sided printing, it auto-duplexes. I accidentally press print when it isn't plugged in or turned on, it prints once it's plugged in and turned on.  I press Cancel Job, it cancels the job.

It hasn't once given me any stupid error messages or freaked out for no reason or otherwise failed to do exactly what it's supposed to do. This is the first personal printer I've owned that I can say that about!

I recommend it unreservedly if you have the budget and the space and don't need colour printing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Options for Gmail's "new compose"

I'm completely baffled that Gmail seems to think we want to compose our messages in a little window that hovers over our inbox where you can still see the inbox in the background (even in "full screen" mode).  I've been using email for half my life and not once have I thought while composing a message "You know, it would be really convenient if I could see my inbox right about now!"

However, I have discovered a couple of options for if you find having your inbox in the background distracting:

1.  Ctrl+click on the Compose button.  This will open the compose window in a new tab, with no distracting inbox in the background.

2.  Use Basic HTML view.  You can get to Basic HTML view by clicking on the link at the bottom right of the Gmail loading page (the one with the horizontal blue bar) or by going to Basic HTML view still has a normal compose page.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Eddie Izzard Canadian tour (and how to convince Massey Hall to sell you tickets)

Eddie Izzard is touring Canada in November and tickets just went on sale with the presale code BEES.

To buy from Massey Hall, you need to go to the Massey Hall site (not Ticketmaster), create an account, and log into the account with BEES in the presale field.  Then navigate through the calendar to the date you want (November 13-16) and that's where it will give you the link to buy.

It wasn't working earlier today when the presale started, but it just worked for me.

On a personal note, this is very exciting for me because I'm completely unspoiled for this show.  For Stripped, I was convinced he wouldn't come to Canada so I sought out bootlegs, and by the time he finally came here I knew the material already - but I was still belly laughing for three hours straight!  This time I have no idea what's coming, so I'll be seeing new Eddie Izzard material for the first time in five years (!) and I'll be seeing it live and in person!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

What if myopia makes your social skills worse?

Last night as I went about my evening routine, I took off my glasses to wash my face, and then didn't bother to put them back on to take my garbage to the garbage chute.  As I walked back from the garbage chute, a small group of young men whom I didn't know emerged from one of the other apartments.  I looked in their direction and realized that without my glasses, I couldn't read their facial expressions.  I wasn't sure if they were making eye contact with me or if they were giving me a smile of acknowledgement or if their head just happened to be turned in my direction.

Because of this, I felt I didn't know how to respond appropriately.  I don't like to greet strange men with more enthusiasm than they greet me, but I do like to return neighbours' greetings in kind unless there's a specific reason not to.  Without my glasses on, I couldn't see his face clearly enough to gather the necessary information.

I wonder if this is why I have poor facial expression skills in general? 

I've always been nearsighted, but we didn't catch it until I was 12 or 13.  Maybe in the formative years of my life, I simply didn't receive information from facial expressions, so maybe I don't look there for information as much as other people, and am not as accustomed to using facial expressions to communicate because I'm not as accustomed to them being informative.  I do remember in elementary school, my mother mentioned that she recognizes people primarily by their eyes, which baffled me because I recognized people primarily by their hair.  That would make sense based on my eyesight - eyes are smaller and more detailed, but hair is larger and quite often has a specific shape and a contrasting colour.  (Since I was a child at the time, my peers didn't drastically change their hair nearly as often as people do in adult life.)

When I was walking down that hall last night without my glasses on, I felt a bit frightened and intimidated because I couldn't read the strange men.  This is similar to the sense of fear and intimidation I felt about everyone when I was a kid.  In retrospect, I wonder if it's just because my eyesight didn't allow me to read people?