Sunday, October 27, 2013

Do silica gel desiccant packets get used up?

After the Infamous Rogers Centre iPod Drowning Incident of 2012, I started collecting everyone one of those little silica gel desiccant packets that crossed my path.  I put them in a ziploc bag with some rice, just in case I should ever have a similar incident in the future.

That paid off this week, when I accidentally overturned a glass of water onto my ipod. I stuck the ipod straight into this bag and left it there for 24 hours, and it came out fully operational (and I think the moisture indicator didn't even turn, knock wood!)

My question: do I need to throw out all these silica packets, or are they still good for further use?  I intend to keep adding packets to the bag as I encounter them, but can I keep the "used" ones in there or should I throw them completely out and start over?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I recently tried Nanoblur, which claims to instantly reduce the appearance of skin by changing the way light reflects off skin.

Many internet reviewers have said that they experienced instantly noticeable results.  However, on me, it did basically nothing.  I could see maybe a 2% improvement on my forehead wrinkles when I was wearing makeup, and nothing perceptible when I wasn't wearing makeup. Also, when I applied with with makeup, my eyes somehow looked smaller afterwards. 

I also tried it on my elbows and on the backs of my hands (to duplicate tests I've seen people do on the internet), and there was no perceptible difference.

It didn't do anything to mitigate the dark skin around my eyes or my acne scars, which are my primary beauty concerns at the moment.  (I suspect it might not be intended to address these issues, although the advertising didn't rule it out.)  It also didn't do anything about my large pores, which the advertising did specifically mention.

One thing I did notice is Nanoblur is very matte.  Which might be helpful if you don't have your shine under control, but is less useful if you do have your shine under control (which I didn't even realize I do until I tried Nanoblur!) My usual foundation regime (a combination of Cover Girl TruBlend liquid and powder foundations) usually gives me a tiny bit of a good shine - a certain luminosity, for lack of a better word - and Nanoblur slightly suppressed this.

I found it was compatible with makeup when used as directed (other online reviewers reported having difficulty combining it with makeup), and I didn't find it drying (other online reviewers did). 

But I didn't find it worth using either. I'm not even planning to keep it for my special occasion makeup arsenal, instead I intend to pass it on to someone else who's interested in trying it to save them the expense.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Things They Should UNInvent: banners that overlap the body text section of a website (or web browsers that can't handle this)

Some websites (such as Twitter and Salon) have banner-style headers that overlap the body text area.

The problem with this is if you press the spacebar to page down one screen, the browser behaves as though the area covered by the banner is visible, which means you miss a line or two every time you page down, and then have to page back up with a mouse.  This is very irritating, and also bad ergonomically - pressing the spacebar to page down is basically the minimum amount of ergonomic strain, and having to mouse could cause problems for people who have or are prone to RSI.

Web design and browser design need to fix this.  Pressing the spacebar should show the next page of text, with no text missed (and, in fact, with the last line of the previous page visible at the top, just to reassure the reader that they haven't missed anything.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Things They Should Invent: public birthday parties

Sometimes people can't celebrate their birthday on their actual birthday, because the people they most want to celebrate with aren't available on that day.

Solution: public, meet-up style birthday parties for anyone who has a birthday that day.  I'm picturing the parties being held by a group of bars or pubs - the kind of place where any random person can walk in and have a good time - that would rotate among themselves so each one has to throw a birthday party only every couple of weeks or so.

You go in, show ID showing that it's your birthday, and you're entitled to one free drink and a piece of cake and maybe all the nachos you can eat over the course of the evening (or whatever else they can give away without wrecking their margins).  The employees (and, hopefully, other customers and birthday people) congratulate you and wish you happy birthday and generally make a fuss over you.  Maybe there could also be bonus freebies for people celebrating a milestone birthday. There would also be a general discount for people whose birthday it isn't on birthday party days, so there will be other people around to wish happy birthday to the birthday people.

The bars get attention, publicity, drink sales (because few people are going to limit themselves to the one free drink on their birthday), and maybe some new regulars who remember how this bar made them feel happy and welcome and celebrated on that birthday when they were all alone.

The bar's regulars get a discount and a bit of a party atmosphere on that particular day, and the possibility of attracting new and interesting regulars to the bar (if the birthday people are made to feel happy and welcome and celebrated.)

The birthday people get something fun to do on their birthday that makes them feel happy and welcome and celebrated, plus they get to meet other people who have the same birthday and thereby make friends who will totally be into celebrating their birthday on their birthday next year!

And, because the birthday people will meet birthday buddies, they might be able to make it just a one-year project. This would eliminate any "Meh, I'll go next year" sentiment among the birthday people, and thereby increase attendance and popularity.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Double candy buyback?

From The Ethicist:

Several dentists in our area offer to purchase candy during Halloween from their young patients for $1 per pound. Presumably they do this to reduce the risk to their patients of developing cavities. Unfortunately, the dentists then give the candy to the local food cupboard. There is little doubt that most (if not all) the clients who use the food cupboard can little afford proper dental care. I believe such behavior is thoughtless, unethical and unprofessional. I am a retired dentist.
Unrelated to the question being asked and without claiming that this is actually a good idea, I find myself wondering if people could get candy from the food bank and have the dentist buy it from them from a dollar a pound?  Or if someone from the food bank could just take it back to a dentist and get it bought out and use the donation to buy food?

The first Google result tells me that the average kids gets 10 pounds of Halloween candy, which means the food bank may well end up with a few hundred pounds of candy.  So if they split it up among several dentists, they could get a few hundred dollars, which would buy a decent amount of food (especially since food banks can apparently buy food wholesale.)

I don't know if this would bring their clients as much happiness as getting some candy for a treat, but that's where my mind went.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thankful without a "to"

I've blogged before about my non-thankfulness policy.  But it occurs to me that the things I'm thankful for are those for which there is no one to be thankful to.

For example, I'm thankful that I don't feel the need to seek out adventure and am perfectly content at home with books and TV and internet and gaming.

I'm thankful that I'm introverted enough that I don't get lonely, functionally speaking (i.e. the frequency with which people pay attention to me in the natural course of life is sufficient to keep me from getting lonely).

I'm thankful that, through a series of flukes, I found my optimal career path and my optimal neighbourhood.

All of these are things for which I'm truly thankful, but there's no one to be thankful to.  They're just how things turned out.

I want to make it clear: this isn't any sort of deliberate exercise in gratitude.  This isn't the result of a philosophy or a self-help system.  The purely internal things for which I'm thankful aren't the result of any attempt to master my emotions or become zen or otherwise self-improve. This is just how my naturally-occurring emotions landed: thankful without a "to".

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Things They Should Invent: standardized "I'm about to smoke on the balcony" warning

I habitually keep my windows open when the outdoor temperature is comfortable.  I find it's more effective (and cheaper) at regulating the indoor temperature, especially at this time of year when apartment buildings are switched over to heating mode but it's nowhere near cold enough to need heat.

Unfortunately, one of my neighbours smokes, and whatever it is they smoke is truly disgusting.  It's worse than cigarettes, it's worse than pot.  (I'm wondering if it might be cigars, since it really has a strong stinky old man smell.)  I can't tell when they're about to start smoking, so my living room gets filled with stinky stinky stink before I can even get the window closed.

But smoking on one's balcony is a reasonable thing to do, so I can't exactly complain.  I just wish I had some kind of warning so I could close my windows before the stinky stinky stink gets in.

Solution: some kind of standardized, audible "I'm about to smoke on my balcony" signal.  A bell or something, loud enough to be heard when the windows are open but not when the windows are closed, with the same sound for everyone so everyone could recognize it.  If you're going to smoke, you ring the bell, wait a minute or two, then light up.

One benefit of this approach would be that it retains some anonymity.  Smokers could inform their neighbours they're going to smoke without actually having to converse with them (and risk having to deal with being yelled at or otherwise deal with attempts at dissuasion).  The neighbours might not even know who it is who's about to smoke, just that it's someone nearby or downstairs or whatever.  But we could still get fair warning so we could close our windows and not be disturbed by the smoke.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Beware of calls from 1-877-974-2547 allegedly from RBC

I recently received a phone call from 1-877-974-2547, with the call display saying "RBC".  I bank with RBC, so I answered.  On the other end was a young woman in a very noisy call centre asking me if I wanted to switch to paperless statements.  I've been on paperless statements for years, so this seemed suspicious to me.

So I asked RBC on Twitter, and they replied that it doesn't appear to be an official number:

So beware of any call you get from 1-877-974-2547.  Remember: if you get a questionable call, you can always call the customer service number listed on the bank's website and ask them if there are in fact any problems with your account that require attention.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

In my readings about neuroplasticity, I came across a mention of a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which is a drawing course that uses neuroplasticity principles to improve your drawing skills by strengthening your right brain.  I have no interest in drawing but I did want to see neuroplasticity happen, so I decided to try it out.  (This is also why blogging has been particularly slow lately - I've had to spend a lot of time drawing!)

Here's what I discovered:

Using my right brain only literally makes my brain hurt!  One of the earlier exercises is copying a line drawing upside down.  Because it's upside down, it's far more difficult to recognize what you're drawing, so instead of thinking "This is a leg that I'm drawing now" you think in terms of "How do the length and angle of this line relate to the line I just drew?"  Because your left brain can't name the parts of what you're drawing, it stops participating in the exercise, leaving it to the right brain only.  My poor, underused right brain was not accustomed to this, and the exercise gave me the worst headache I've had since the first day I tried going coffee-free on weekends.  If I hadn't known about the neuroplasticity benefits, I would have given up right then and there.

My left brain quickly adapted. When I did that first, painful upside-down line drawing, the exercise was a success in that I couldn't recognize what I was copying so I copied the actual lines far more accurately.  However, by the time I got to the second (which was on another day, with at least one sleep in between), rather than my right brain being stronger, I found my left brain had adapted to the exercise and I could recognize what I was drawing far more readily, which defeated the purpose of the exercise and resulted in a less realistic drawing.

My drawing did improve, but not as much as I had hoped. The last pictures I drew were significantly better than the first ones.  However, they weren't nearly as good as I had hoped they would be based on the description of what the book was meant to achieve.  I wasn't able to enjoy my clear, obvious, significant improvement because the drawings still didn't come out nearly as well as I wanted.

This book helps you see, but doesn't help you actually draw. The core function of the book is to make you see what's actually in front of you - how the lines and spaces and light and shadows relate to each other - rather than letting your left brain fill in the blank. The problem - as with everything physical and tangible - is that I can't always make my hand make the pencil do what I want it to.  I draw a line, and it looks wrong.  Using the principles taught in the book, I am now able to think "That should be on a steeper slant." But when I erase it and try to redraw it on a steeper slant... it comes out exactly where I put it in the first place!  This book doesn't do anything to help with that, and it's currently the biggest obstacle to my drawings coming out the way I want them to. 

I'd also hoped that it might give me drawing skills that enable me to do a quick, semi-realistic sketch, the sort of thing I could bust out as a parlour trick.  I was picturing sitting and colouring with my fairy goddaughter, and while she makes me a page of crayon scribbles that I will keep forever, I make her a recognizable picture of her dog or something.  But instead the process is slow and technical, and requires a subject or model that stays still (which my fairy goddaughter's dog most definitely does not.)  It gets results with time invested and hard work, but doesn't give you the ability to improvise delightfully.  Much like my music skills, actually.

Turns out I don't like drawing. I never got to the point of enjoying the drawing exercises.  Every time I got to one, I'd be like "Aww, man, I have to draw now!"  I found it tedious and time-consuming and got no pleasure out of it.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy it - I was in this for neuroplasticity, not for art skills - but because of this I found it a bit annoying when the book suggested that I was probably pleased with my drawing or I probably found this particular exercise enjoyable.  In fact, the exercise I found most enjoyable was the pure contour drawing, where you try to visually copy the contours of what you're drawing without looking at the paper.  This is a visualization exercise rather than a drawing exercise - it isn't intended to produce an actual drawing and most often just produces a scribble - and I found I enjoyed it specifically because there were no expectations of the end result.

I don't know if this actually had any neuroplasticity effects.  I noticed my left brain compensating, and I noticed that after the first couple exercises my brain stopped hurting during the right-brain-only work, but I don't know if that's my right brain getting stronger or just that my left brain figured out a way to barge in and help.  Other than that, I didn't notice anything, but the fact that I don't perceive it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Things Torrent Trackers Should Invent: let people with invitations search

My favourite torrent tracker recently closed, which sent people scrambling for an alternative. I was able to secure an invitation to one of the trackers touted as an alternative, so I accepted the invitation, created an account, visited the tracker...and discovered there was nothing there of interest to me.  None of the things I'm currently looking for are there, none of the things I got from the old tracker were there. Even though its description sounded like it would meet my needs, it didn't.

So my much sought-after invitation was wasted.  Other people were still after invitations to this tracker, but I couldn't give my account to them. 

Solution: set up torrent trackers so that people with invitations can conduct a limited number of searches before accepting their invitation.  You put in your invite code, then you're allowed to conduct maybe 3 to 5 searches, then you have to either accept or decline your invitation.  If you accept, you create an account and can start torrenting.  If you decline, the invitation reverts to the person who gave it to you, so they can pass it on to someone else.

Private trackers are private for two reasons: to limit themselves to quality users, and to protect themselves from parties who want to get people in trouble for torrenting.  Letting people with invitations search won't hinder these objectives.  People who turn out not to be as interested in the content of the tracker as they expected aren't going to be high quality users, because they have less of an incentive to participate and keep their ratio up, while taking up a space that could otherwise be occupied by a more enthusiastic user.  And people who want to get the users in trouble would simply accept the invitation and get in. 

I don't know how easy or difficult allowing searches to invitation-holders would be from a technical perspective, but it would create a better torrenting experience for everyone.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Things They Should Invent: standardized, legally-binding DNR tattoo

Today's Toronto Star ethics column discusses some issues surrounding Do Not Resuscitate orders. In the final paragraph, the columnist raises an idea I've come up with independently in the past:
I floated one more suggestion by Godkin. “Perhaps,” I mused, “this lady should get the letters DNR tattooed on her left breast — then no one could miss it at the critical moment.” Godkin responded that she’d heard the same suggestion from several nurses. She doubted, however, that such enigmatic ink would stop a zealous paramedic.
Solution: we need a standard design for a DNR tattoo that is widely publicized and universally understood to mean DNR.  Its location should be standardized so responders know where to look (like with dog microchips.)  The presence of this tattoo should provide first responders and medical personal with all the ass-covering they need to not be held liable for not treating a person who has the tattoo.

The design should be as small and as simple as reasonably practicable, to minimize the time and discomfort of getting the actual tattoo, but distinctive enough to be easily recognizable and to be distinguished from any other tattoo a person might have.

There should also be a standardized and easily-recognizable way to cancel it, perhaps by tattooing a big X through it.

When I started writing this, my idea was that tattoo artists can only give people a DNR tattoo if they see DNR documentation.  Then it occurred to me that getting a tattoo is such a serious act that maybe it should simply count as DNR documentation.

I'm also going back and forth about whether you should have to prove you're of sound mind to get a DNR tattoo. On one hand, a DNR is serious business and you should have to be of sound mind to do serious business.  On the other hand, how much quality of life is possible if you're in a situation where you can end up in a tattoo parlour asking to get DNR tattooed on you when you don't actually want it?  I don't know the answer to that question, so I'll leave it to the experts.

But, in general, the problem with DNR orders is the paperwork might not always be readily available at a time when a decision on whether to resuscitate needs to be made.  So why not standardize a way to have the order literally on one's person?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

By request: my essay-writing technique

Conventional wisdom is that, when writing an essay, you should decide what your thesis is, determine what points best prove that thesis, use this information to prepare an outline, and then flesh it out into a full essay.

This was never particularly good for me, because either I had no idea what my thesis should be, or I had a brilliant idea for a thesis but couldn't quite pull the essay together.

So in university, I came up with another technique.

I started by opening a blank Word document and typing out everything I knew that was remotely relevant.  Some if it would be in nice sentences and paragraphs, some of it would be in point form, some of it would be a list of questions to answer.  I'd usually also have stray analogies and turns of phrase that I wouldn't mind working in there somewhere.  I'd just braindump until my brain emptied, then put it aside.

The next day, I'd open it up again, read it over, add anything that occurred to me, and then figure out what thesis was most naturally proven by all this stuff I'd written.

Then I'd drag all the stuff on the screen around until it landed in the order that best proved the thesis, marking any gaps with "[...]" or "[talk about widgets here]" or whatever.  Then I had my outline.  And over half my essay.

If I had time, I'd put it aside overnight again, and then fill in those blanks I'd left the next day.  After letting it sit overnight, filling in those blanks always seemed like a remarkably easy task.  Just a few sentences here and there, no biggie!  (If I didn't have time to let it sit overnight before I did this, I'd do all I could by brute force.)

Then another overnight, a fresh morning edit, and we're done!

If I didn't have time for more than one overnight, I'd do the braindump and determine the thesis on the same day, but with a break in between and in two different locations. (For example, braindump at home, spend an hour gaming, get dinner, then determine my thesis in the library.)

The result was an essay that does its job as well as possible.  Because my thesis was supported by the points I knew most about, it was (very nearly by definition) the best-proven thesis I could come up with, and proven to the best of my ability. Essays written this way always got As, many of which were high As (at the university level), whereas essays written by choosing my thesis first more often got Bs, occasionally low As.