Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Google Blog Search doesn't do its job properly

Being the kind of fangirl I am, I have an RSS feed of Google News and Google Blog Search results for "Izzard" in my feed reader, so I get any new articles.

And, as you might have noticed, I also have a blog, where I've mentioned Eddie Izzard in a couple of different posts during the course of my current fandom high. (I really should start blogging about something else, shouldn't I?) But my own posts have never turned up in my feed reader!  (And my feed reader uses a completely separate log-in identity from my blog, so it would have no way to know not to feed me those because I wrote them.)

So I did some searching:

Here is a regular Google search for blogspot posts containing "Izzard" made within the past week, sorted by relevance.

Here is a Google Blog Search for posts containing "Izzard" made within the past week, sorted by relevance.

There are far more posts in the regular Google search than in the Google Blog Search, even though blogspot is just a subset of blogs!

So then I did a regular Google search for Wordpress posts within the past week, sorted by relevance, and it also contains some quality posts that didn't show up in the Google Blog Search.

Same with Typepad, LiveJournal and even Tumblr.  Most of the posts turned up aren't quality, but at the moment, there's at least one quality post (i.e. tour performance reviews or other things I'm interested in reading) in the first page of results for each of these blogging platforms that doesn't show up in Google Blog Search results!  Even if Google curates its blog search out of necessity, there are things in there that should have made it into the results.

I want to be clear, I'm not complaining because Google Blog Search isn't turning up my blog.  (Objectively, it's better if it doesn't turn up my Eddie Izzard posts because they're all fangirling rather than informative content.)  I'm complaining because Google Blog Search isn't turning up other people's blog posts that I would have liked to read.

How long has this being going on for?  And how many other, more important, searches does this also affect?

In my post speculating whether Web 2.0 makes information less accessible, I wrote:

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

What if, all this time, the blog reviews I'm looking for have in fact been out there, but Google has made them less searchable or less findable?

It's kind of scary, the extent to which Google can influence our concept of what does and doesn't actually exist.  But, at the same time, no other search engine finds stuff as well as Google.  I just don't know if we can trust it to confirm or refute existence...

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Being the kind of fangirl I am, when I entered Eddie Izzard fandom I read every current and past article I could get my hands on, and continue to read every article where he's mentioned. (I have a google alert set up and everything.)

And one thing I've noticed in reading all these articles on a very specific subject with a rather narrow scope is the frequency with which they reuse quotes or statements or information from old articles, without regard for whether that information is still current.

The example of this that I find most egregious is the oft-repeated statement, most recently seen in Post City, that Eddie raised over £200,000 for Sport Relief when he ran 43 marathons in 51 days in 2010.

This statement is completely true.  And it is completely misleading.  Because Eddie did in fact raise well over £1 million with his marathons.

I blogged about it when it happened.  The now-defunct video I'd linked to in my blog (which I so wish was still alive because it would completely prove my point) was from the Sport Relief 2010 broadcast.  Eddie himself also confirmed the 1.6 million number on Twitter. There's also a BBC article with the million pound number prominently featured, an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian citing 1.8 million, and an archived Sport Relief page from when the total was 1.1 million.

The fact that the number is over a million is important, because that's commensurate with the number of Twitter followers Eddie has.  In my blog post linked above, I mentioned that it was more than the number of followers he had at the time.  There's a huge difference between raising an amount of money commensurate with your number of Twitter followers and raising exponentially less money, especially with a feat so ridiculous as 43 marathons in 51 days.  (Analogy: I have 189 Twitter followers.  If I were to attempt to raise money, raising $189 is a reasonable expectation.  However, raising $40 would not be gloat-worthy at all.  And if I were doing multiple marathons, raising $40 would be pretty much a failure.)

Eddie deserves full credit for raising an amount of money commensurate with his feat and his audience reach, but because of citogenesis (although not necessarily through Wikipedia in this case) he isn't always getting it.

And this leads me to wonder: what other defunct or misleading statements are making it into media reports, perhaps on more important subjeccts?

That thing I do where I go to see Eddie Izzard and then brainspew disconnectedly all over my blog

Most of the times I saw Eddie Izzard material for the first time were alone, in my apartment, watching YouTube.

The last time I heard Eddie Izzard material for the first time was almost 5 years ago, lying in bed in the dark listening to an audio bootleg of one of his Stripped shows.

Today, I saw new Eddie Izzard material for the first time sitting front row centre in Massey Hall with my two very best friends in the whole world!

I highly recommend it.

I repeat: front row centre. Front row centre.  Front row centre!!!

This bears emphasizing not just because holy shit front row centre, but because Eddie Izzard and Massey Hall deserve credit for having a system where an ordinary person with no inside knowledge and no connections, armed with nothing but a readily-googleable fan presale code, can land front row centre seats through normal, official channels!  Since I saw tickets to some of Eddie's other shows on stubhub before the fan presale even started, I was very happy to see that Massey Hall was selling properly and aboveboard and "best available" actually meant best available.

Also, I touched the stage of Massey Hall!  (Before the show, when the audience was milling around. I just stood up, took two steps, and touched it!)

The whole show went by so fast!  The first half felt like 20 minutes (it was an hour and a quarter) and the second half felt like 10 minutes (it was at least an hour). I didn't even retain any of the material for future quoting purposes because it went by so fast!  I've already forgotten and then re-remembered some parts, and burst out laughing in the subway because I re-remembered the sacrificial virgins bit.

About halfway through the first act, I hit this endorphin high where I was so close to full belly laughter than I couldn't even laugh big any more.  The show ended 1.5 hours ago, and I'm still floating there.  I've been grinning basically since 8 pm, and I'm not about to stop any time soon.

Because of the high and the rapid pace of new material and the intensity of experiencing it brand new for the first time live and in person and up close and personal, I can't even review the material!  I can't even compare it to other shows!  I'll seriously have to buy the DVD to figure out how I like it compared with other shows!

We still really need a way to communicate to Eddie on stage that we're listening with rapt attention.  When he was talking about how we use French-derived words for meat instead of the Anglo-Saxon-derived words we used for the animals (cow = boeuf = beef) we were agreeing and listening and waiting to hear what he said next, but he read the room as not following or not entertained or something.  Which isn't true!  What he was saying was true and interesting and one of my favourite things about English etymology and we couldn't wait to see what else he had to say about it, it just wasn't making us belly laugh.

I normally tweet a welcome to any visiting celebrities, but Eddie arrived right at the peak of the Rob Ford gong show, so I didn't quite feel right about welcoming anyone into this mess.  But perhaps it's good thing for a comedian, because it provides a wealth of material!  Eddie did a bit about Ford at the beginning and then had smoking crack as a callback punchline throughout.  Twitter tells me that in the earlier shows this week, he got 20 minutes of quality material out of it.  Imagine walking into a city as a comedian and it hands you 20 minutes of material that didn't exist the day before!  On one hand, maybe this will make him like us and come back!  On the other hand, I don't want my city to still be so rich in comedy material next time!

Eddie looks absolutely fantastically gorgeous during this tour!  Best I've seen him look in real time! The clean-shaven look really suits him, even when he's not going fully femme.

And my absolute favourite part of tonight was that instead of doing the stage door autograph thing, Eddie came back onstage and did a Q&A session!  He sat down right on the edge of the stage and took questions from the audience!  I vastly prefer that because you get to feel like you're part of a more intimate conversation even if you don't have anything to contribute!  I didn't have any questions, so I just sat there and enjoyed and felt like I was getting to be a part of the conversation without the risk of making an ass of myself.

Eddie is so good at including the whole room that even though we were front and centre and really really close to him during the Q&A, we didn't feel any more included in the conversation than anyone else.  He was deliberately calling on question-askers who were further back and not giving us any particular attention.  All of which was very fair and equitable, of course, I'm just very impressed that he can do that!  It's got to be difficult not to favour people who are nearly within arm's reach and within easy conversational distance!  (We still got to enjoy proximity and skinny jeans and such, so I feel like we won.)

(I'm also happy about the Q&A in my ongoing tradition of interpreting everything as being the result of my influence as a blogger.  Eddie did Q&As earlier in the Stripped tour, but didn't do them for us.  I did express my disappointment on the internet that we got stage door instead of Q&A.  And this time we got a Q&A!  Also, last time I also expressed concern that the tickets available through Ticketmaster weren't the same as the tickets available though the Massey Hall box office, with far better tickets being available through Massey Hall (Massey Hall put us in the second row when Ticketmaster was putting us on the balcony), and this time the Toronto tickets were through Massey Hall only with Ticketmaster not involved at all!)

Next time there's an It Gets Better or Letter To Your Younger Self or similar meme floating around, this evening is something that I am totally going to tell my younger self about.  This was like the pinnacle of experience for me.

Eddie did mention in the Q&A that he plans two more tours.  I look forward to him topping this.  Twice.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things They Should Invent: leave cartons with cracked eggs open on the shelf

In the grocery store buying eggs, I picked up a carton off the shelf, checked the eggs, and discovered that one was stuck to the carton, which meant it was cracked and leaking. Since I don't want a cracked egg, I put that carton down and selected another one.

But I put the carton with the cracked egg back on the shelf, which meant that the next person will pick it up, inspect it, find a cracked egg, and put it back on the shelf.  And then the next person will pick it up, inspect it, find a cracked egg, and put it back on the shelf.  This wastes a little bit of everyone's time and interferes with the smooth flow of traffic in the egg section.

Solution: we need to standardize some way to signal to other shoppers that a particular carton contains a cracked egg.

My idea:  If the carton has a cracked egg, leave it open on the shelf.  Other people can then avoid it and go straight to cartons that are still closed.

This will also signal to store employees that there's something wrong with this carton, although it's possible they might just close it and put it back.

As an added bonus, if you pick up a carton of eggs and find it contains an egg that's cracked but not stuck to the carton, you could swap that out with one of the good, non-cracked eggs in an open carton on the shelf, thus consolidating all the cracked eggs and potentially reducing waste.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Seeking external hard drive recommendations (signal boost)

This morning I posted a request for external hard drive recommendations, then promptly sank it with my blogathon.

If you have any external hard drive recommendations, please post them here.

Thank you kindly!

Monday, November 11, 2013

How I became old-fashioned

There have been a lot of technological changes in recent years, and I haven't felt it necessary to adapt these changes wholesale.  As a result, my overall media consumption and telecommunications patterns are starting to look a bit old-fashioned.

Here's what happened:


I've found that I read about three times as many articles in print newspapers than in online newspapers.  Because you have to page through all the pages, more headlines and such catch my eye and I end up reading more articles, whereas when I'm reading online I tend not to dig deeper than what's linked to on the front page.  It isn't readily apparent to me online whether I've looked at all the day's headlines or not, and it's important to me that I at least see what the headlines are even if I choose not to read all the articles.

I do use newspaper websites too, of course.  There are columns I read regularly in papers I don't subscribe to, I look at how other media outlets are covering stories when I'm trying to get a full in-depth picture, and I often land on newspaper websites when googling things. But I continue to read my core newspapers in print so that my baseline news consumption doesn't get drastically reduced.


I also mostly read books in print, because I find I focus better.  I do use ebooks from time to time (when the library doesn't have something in print, when I want searchable, when I want to be able to read on my ipod), but I find I can concentrate and get into the story better when reading on paper.  (I'm more likely to glaze over when reading on screen.)

I also find I like the physical switch from sitting in my computer chair and looking at my computer screen - especially since I'm now working from home so I'm in this exact same chair looking at this exact same screen for nearly all my waking hours.  Don't get me wrong, I love my computer, but when I'm reading a book I sit in a different place, in a different position, facing a different direction, and escape into a different world.


When TV shows and movies are available on demand, I can watch them whenever I want.  So I end up never watching them because I can always get to them later.  So then, instead of being a nice break and bit of entertainment, they become an item on my to-do list.

However, if TV shows or movies are on TV at a specific time, then I'll stop what I'm doing if at all possible and watch them at that time because that's when they're on.  It's a perfectly valid excuse to take a break, and it's also a clearly circumscribed break.  No half-assed "I'll just game for a bit."  Nope, I game for the duration of this specific TV show, and then get back to what I should be doing.

For example, I'm currently watch 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation because they're in syndication on channels I get.  Twice a day, I take a half-hour break, and I'm getting through these shows at the rate of one episode a day.

However, United States of Tara, Big Love, Dexter and Arrested Development have been languishing on my "stuff I should get around to watching" list for literally years. Because they're no longer on TV or on channels I get, I'd have to get the DVDs from the library and binge-watch (because you can only take out a DVD for a week) or acquire them through unofficial channels.  But I can do that whenever, so I haven't done it yet.  The DVDs are languishing on my holds list and the shows are among the many things weighing down my mental to-do list.

I also don't feel any particular need to avoid television that has commercial breaks, because I have a long-standing habit of using commercial breaks to get shit done.  When I'm watching something and commercials come on, I start doing housework or, if it's close to bedtime, going through my evening routine.  I'm motivated because it's such a short period of time, so I get a surprising amount done.  I wouldn't be anywhere near as motivated or efficient if I just though "I'll do 15 minutes of housework now for no particular reason."

There's also the fact that I use TV for exercise.  The "if I can do it whenever, I'll never get around to it" thing holds here too.  I'll get down on the floor and do pilates because Pilates from the Inside Out is on TV.  But if I had DVDs or online videos, I'd procrastinate it.  And given how much I detest exercise, anything that gets me doing it is good.

Cable is a major expense and is high on the Things I'd Cut If I Needed To Save Money list, but fortunately I don't need to cut it yet, so I keep it for the structure that it gives to my recreational habits.


I do own a cellphone, but it's a cheap phone that's uncomfortable to talk on with the cheapest plan I could find.  (And for three years, I had a deal where I didn't pay anything at all for it.)  I use it when I need to get in touch with someone while I'm out of the house, but I don't like it for social conversation.  For social purposes, I very much prefer the landline.

The major advantage of the landline is it's in my home, not in my purse.  I'm only able to chat for social purposes (and for many business purposes) when I'm at home.  When I'm out and about, I've got shit to do and/or I'm already socializing with someone, so I'm simply not available for telephone conversations.  I do still enjoy long, rambling, high-school-style telephone conversations when both parties have the time, but I only ever have time when I'm at home.

I think one of the factors here is that I live alone.  I don't need telephone privacy from anyone else or have anyone else tying up my line (and back when these things did apply, it was the 20th century and I was a teenager, so a cellphone would have been an unattainable luxury for me at the time), so I don't have any reason not to use the landline, or any reason why using the cell would be preferable.


Many people in recent years have moved towards using texting for social purposes, but I still find email more convenient for many of the same reasons why I find the landline more convenient.  Again, I do use texting if I'm out and about and need to communicate with someone textually, or if I need to put textual information directly into someone's cellphone.  And when people text me, I do text back (eventually, once I'm within reach of my cell and have it turned on.)

But I find it inconvenient for purely social "Hi, how's it going, how was your day?" purposes, again because I'm only up for these purely social conversations when I'm at home, and when I'm at home it's much more convenient to write textual conversations on the computer.

I can type nearly 120 wpm (my typing speed actually went up after plateauing for years!) but I can only text at about 50 on a good day. The keyboard is also more conducive to using sentences and paragraphs and punctuation and such.  You don't need to press a extra button to insert a number or a semicolon or anything, you just go.  Plus, if I'm at home, I'm almost always at the computer so it's just a question of alt-tabbing to another window and replying, whereas if I were to text a reply I'd have to put down/stop what I'm doing, pick up another device, and painstakingly peck out a reply.

Again, this is also informed by the fact that I live alone and in a very small apartment.  I leave my computer on whenever I'm home and awake, I can hear any incoming email thanks to Gmail Notifier, and basically I'm never in a situation where using another device is more convenient for me than using my computer and I'm up for social chitchat.  So, again, I don't have any reason not to use email, or any reason why texting would be preferable for casual conversation.

But apparently all these things are starting to be seen as old-fashioned, and, from what I've seen on Reddit and such, younger people in their teens and 20s hardly use them at all.  But I'm well over 30 now.  I hope that makes me old enough to be a bit old-fashioned.

Why try to force people to exchange gifts when none of them want to?


As a father of two teenagers sons (14 & 18) and step-father of two more boys (16 & 21), I am at odds with my wife about birthday gifts between the siblings.               
While I understand that giving should be from the heart, I feel the teenage boys could use a "nudge" in the right direction. My idea was that sibling gifts should be at least $25, and no limit to generosity above this base level of gift card or purchase. In this way, the amount always comes back to them anyway, so it's not a big budget issue, looking at the year as a whole.            
What are your thoughts about brotherly love through birthday gifts, should it be regulated just enough to encourage giving?

If they're unenthusiastic about giving each other gifts, why eliminate the option of a mutual agreement not to exchange gifts?  Giving the perfect gift is awesome, but the would-be joy of giving quickly becomes an arduous chore when it's forced upon you.

If the kids have different ideas of what constitutes an appropriate birthday present, it might be an idea to make some guidelines (with their input!) But if they're all just unenthusiastic, I think it would be a better idea to let them drop it in favour of exchanging gifts with people they actually care about.  The most important thing in encouraging giving is to make it a pleasure, not a chore.

Things They Should Invent: insist on Advent

On November 1, multiple non-retail sources, ranging from Weather Network polls to Reddit alien doodles, turned Christmasmas themed.  As though everyone had collectively decided "It's November, therefore it's time to think about Christmas!"  (In fact, one of the polls or articles on the Weather Network even said this outright.)

This is ridiculous.  It wasn't too long ago that US Thanksgiving was considered the distant early beginning of Christmas shopping and such.  But to stretch it out to very nearly 2 full months?  That will ruin it for everyone, because everyone will be tired of Christmas by the time December rolls around.  And to unquestioningly treat that as baseline human reality?  Unacceptable!

I have a solution: Christians should insist that Advent be respected.

Advent is, in many Christian denominations, a period of anticipation and preparation for the arrival of Christ.  In Western denominations (which includes Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist), it begins four Sundays before Christmas, which ranges from November 27 to December 3 depending on how the calendar falls that year.  That seems like plenty of time for actively getting ready for Christmas.  In fact, it has been decreed to be enough time by the very people who decreed that Christmas is A Thing in the first place!

Appropriately, because Christmas is a Christian holiday, this solution needs to be pushed and promoted and advocated for by Christians. There are people out there who are very insistent that Christmas should be acknowledged in public spaces, going to far as to proclaiming there is a "War on Christmas" if it isn't acknowledge to their satisfaction.

These people, especially, can do an enormous amount of good by also insisting that Advent be acknowledged, and by proclaiming and pre-Advent public display of Christmas paraphernalia to be a War on Advent.

The liturgical calendar exists for a reason.  There are different seasons that reflect the trials and tribulations of the life of Christ and of the human condition.  Christianity - and life itself - are not all trees and presents and food and adorable haloed babies. Advent, too, is there for a reason, and organizations that fail to respect it are failing to respect the complexity of your religion. You should protest this, like you would protest the use of a creche as an Easter decoration.

The best thing about having bought a condo

So it was just over a year ago that I bought my condo.  It's currently under construction, and my strongest feeling about the whole thing is relief that I don't have to buy a condo!

I've never felt it's strictly necessary to buy a condo, but I have felt that it's strictly necessary for my decision to rent to be the best choice, which meant that I needed to keep running numbers and researching prices and basically working on buying a condo even when I wasn't buying one.

But the numbers and the situation turned last year, and I managed to buy the exact unit I wanted, which means that for the past year this omnipresent chores has been off my to-do list!

Condo people are always asking me if I'm excited about the new place, and I'm not.  I have no negative feelings about it, but my positive feelings aren't as strong as excitement.  However, I have been incredibly relaxed and stress-free for the past year because it's no longer up in the air. The complex multivariable equation of what/when/where/if has been turned into something simple: hoard money and throw it at the mortgage.

That I can do.

Scientific approaches without critical thinking

I blogged  before about the guy on the GO bus who was trying to convince me that I shouldn't use my anti-carsickness wristbands because he believed their effect was purely psychosomatic and had no scientific basis.

This is an example of something that's been irritating me for a while: people who are so dedicated to the scientific method that they don't think critically about whether it's necessary to approach a particular problem or situation from a purely scientific perspective.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of science.  It's just that it isn't absolutely necessary to limit oneself to a strict, solely evidence-based, clinical, experimental approach to absolutely everything in the world at absolutely all times.

Here are some of the problems:

Unwillingness to make educated guesses

Sometimes, if you ask an evidence-based expert's opinion on something, they'll just say "There haven't been any studies conducted."  But, as someone who doesn't know much about a number of subject areas, I'd very much like their educated guess.

Using a blatantly fake example so as not to accidentally create googleability on something I don't know anything about, suppose I've read on the internet that jumping out of a second-storey window will cure your cancer. They probably haven't done any studies on this.  But we can still use our basic knowledge of how cancer and gravity and the world work to conclude "No, it doesn't work that way."  But suppose I say that I've read on the internet that if you jump out a second-storey window, you'll most likely survive but might injure the part of your body that you land on.  Without conducting any studies, we can look at our basic knowledge of the world and say "Seems about right."

This comes up and annoys me most often in websites dedicated to scientific analysis of beauty products. They'll say something like "The product claims to do X, Y and Z.  There have been no studies conducted on whether these ingredients would do X, Y or Z."   And then they leave it at that.  Okay, but is the claim plausible?  Is the claim ridiculous?  In the absence of clinical evidence, use your education and make an educated guess!  I'm reading you for expertise, not just for you to google up other people's studies so I don't have to.

The assumption that untested = harmful

When I was having my dysphagia incident, at one point during the long, scary weekend when I was waiting to see my doctor, I googled up the reflexology points that correspond with the esophagus, and massaged them. It helped a little.  If my esophagus was functioning at 10%, it felt like it was functioning at 15% after I did my little experiment in self-reflexology.

I don't know if reflexology has been clinically tested (the internet tells me it has and the internet tells me it hasn't). But even if it hasn't been tested, it's reasonable to assume I'm doing myself no harm by rubbing my own feet. If reflexology did serious harm, someone probably would have noticed by now.  (In fact, if it could do harm, it's better for me to google up the correct reflexology points and operate under the assumption that I'm doing a medical treatment on myself than to just rub my feet willy-nilly.)

The assumption that ineffective = harmful

When I was a teenager, I read or heard somewhere that duct tape can cure warts.  In the early 2000s, I had an opportunity to try it, and it worked fantastically where drugstore treatments had no effect.  Sometime later, someone did a study of duct tape as a wart treatment (although they used clear duct tape and I used silver) and they found that the results for duct tape were no different than the results for no treatment.

What I have a problem with is people who use this study to conclude that you shouldn't try to treat your warts with duct tape.  The study found that the results were no different from doing nothing.  So why not give it a try if you want to do it?  Basically the study proved that putting duct tape on your foot has no effect.  So if you want to do something silly-looking that the evidence found has no effect, why shouldn't you?

When it doesn't matter if it's scientific 

As I've blogged about before, I found significant, life-changing inspiration in the concept of Entitlement, which I learned about in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. A number of times I've mentioned this in discussions about things that inspired you, and been told that I shouldn't be inspired by that because Gladwell's methods aren't scientific.

But it doesn't have to be scientific for me to be inspired by it.  The book introduced me to a concept I needed in a way that made it clear to me why I needed it and how I could make it work for me.  So I tried it out, got good results, kept using it, and it was life-changing.  No science required.  It's like if someone says to you "You'd look good in red," or "Here, taste this food." They don't need to prove scientifically that you'd look good in red or that the food is yummy, you just try it out and either it works or it doesn't.  And if it turns out you do look good in red or the food is yummy, these positive qualities are not negated by their not having been proven scientifically.

When it doesn't matter if it doesn't work

Shortly after my GERD diagnosis, in an informal conversation with someone with naturopathic training, I learned that apples are thought to be effective against GERD.  The pectin in their peel is thought to form a protective barrier on top of the contents of the stomach, making it more difficult for it to reflux back up into the esophagus.  To get the most out of this protection, I was told, an apple should be the last thing you eat at each meal and at the end of the day.

So I immediately started doing it.

 Is it scientifically proven?  I have no idea.  Does it work for me?  I have no idea - my GERD is silent so I don't feel heartburn.

But it doesn't matter.  I love apples and I eat at least one (and 2-3 during peak season) every day anyway.  Even with all the contradictory information I received from conventional and alternative medicine, apples were not contraindicated anywhere.  So I took something I eat anyway and started eating it at specific points in my day rather than whenever the hell I want (although I'm also free to have them whenever the hell I want too.)  If it doesn't work, nothing has changed and no harm has been done.  So why wait around for someone to do a study?

The right to self-experimentation 

One thing I hear quite often from people who are opposed to alternative medicine on the basis that it hasn't undergone clinical testing is that people shouldn't be experimenting on themselves or using themselves as test subjects for things that haven't been proven.

But why not?  Experimentation and test subjects are necessary for things to become proven. So if you feel it's promising or would rather be doing something than doing nothing, why not experiment on yourself?

Weirdly, because this comes from nearly an opposite place, I've also seen this from people who think prescription medicines are overused.  For example, when I had my dysphagia incident, my doctor offered me the option of taking a medication (Dexilant) while we waited for testing and referrals to go through.  His reasoning was that most things that could be hindering my swallowing had reflux as the root cause, and Dexilant would help with reflux and help heal any damage to my esophagus caused by reflux.  If reflux was a factor, it would help.  If reflux wasn't a factor, it would be informative.

At that point, I really wanted to do something proactive, so I decided that yes, I want to try the medication. I noticed an improvement within an hour of taking the first pill, and I was able to eat normally in three days (i.e. before any tests results had come back or referrals had gone through.)  It was an unmitigated success.  But I've gotten static from a surprising number of people for taking a prescription medication without being 100% certain it was necessary.

One thing I learned when I got sick was that being proactive is helpful for me.  I'm far less stressed when I feel like I'm doing something to make myself better.  I left the doctor's office that day with a to-do list: go to the lab and give them some blood; go to the pharmacy, take the pills they give you, monitor what happens; go to this address at this time and drink some barium; when the hospital calls you, do what they tell you.

Similarly, when I get a cold, I bring on the home remedies.  Vitamin C and echinacea and garlic and Cold-FX and zinc and juice and water and tea and broth and 12 hours of sleep a night.  If I'm not asleep, I'm intaking some kind of fluid literally at all times.  I have no idea if all of this stuff is proven (they keep coming out with studies changing what has been proven), I have no idea if all (or any) of it is necessary.  For all I know, the 12 hours of sleep a night is doing all the work for me. But I feel far better when I'm doing something about it, so I do something about it.

Why would you want to deny someone the relief of being proactive if that's what works for them?

Anecdotal = empirical when it happened to you

Sometimes when I mention something that worked for me in my own firsthand experience, people point out that this is just anecdotal, not experimental data, and therefore I shouldn't rely on it.

But it actually did work for me.  That's empirical evidence.  Duct tape did cure my warts, so I will use duct tape next time I get a wart.  Even if for some reason it doesn't work for anyone else in the world, I already know that it worked for me, so it will be the first thing I reach for next time.  My home remedy bombardment when I have a cold has worked for me for the past 20 years, so next time I get a cold, I will reach for it.  Even if it doesn't work for others, I know it works for me.

Everyone is their own best test subject for determining whether things work for themselves. If someone is willing to take the risk of playing guinea pig for themselves, why deny them that option?

Is anyone teaching young people how to drink?

In Grade 12, the student council president was in my homeroom, so a lot of posters and swag and propaganda and stuff got delivered to our classroom for her to use for student council purposes.

One day we got a package of anti-drinking posters.  We opened them up and looked through them, and some of my classmates thought that one poster was inappropriate and shouldn't be used.

The inappropriate message?  Guidelines for safer social drinking.  (For example, the one part I remember was "No more than one drink per hour, no more than four drinks per occasion".)  People thought this was inappropriate because the vast majority of the students in our school were under the legal drinking age, and they felt this poster was giving students permission to drink as long as they did so responsibly.  So it didn't go up.

However, I saw the poster and internalized the message.  Then, that summer, when I took up drinking, I followed those rules.  One drink per hour, four drinks per occasion.  Water in between, start on a full stomach.

And I've never had a hangover.  Or a blackout.  And the last time I vomited was four years before I started drinking.

This all came to mind when I saw a headline in Salon refuting the premise of another article that apparently alleges that no one is telling young women not to drink. (The article is not important to this blog post, it's just the headline that triggered this train of thought.)

My experience is consistent with the Salon headline: everyone is telling young people not to drink. 

But is anyone teaching young people how to drink?  Is the information about timing and spacing and what constitutes moderate consumption and what constitutes safe consumption and what the threshold is for binge drinking being provided?  Or are they just being told not to do it or not to overdo it?

Quantitative guidelines fell into my hands a few months before I had my first beer, and as a result I've always been in control of my inebriation. But these guidelines were kept from my peers for fear they might imply that it's possible to drink responsibly.

How many of my peers didn't learn how to drink responsibly as a result?  Or perhaps even that drinking responsibly is an option?

Post your external hard drive recommendations here!

Just over two years ago, I bought a Western Digital Elements external hard drive.  I didn't put a lot of research into this - I just had to reimage my computer so I needed something immediately for backup.

It served me well for nearly two years, but then the power supply died.  I bought a new one on ebay, but it died just now, after only a few months' use.  The internet suggests that this is not an uncommon problem with Western Digital external hard drives.

So I've decided it's time to go for quality.  Can anyone recommend an external hard drive that has given them worry-free reliability and longevity?

I don't necessarily need anything with its own backup software or anything, I just need an external hard drive that will work and keep working for years without my having to worry about it.


Interesting Canadian place names

I was slightly surprised to see Thunder Bay in the list of Eddie Izzard's Canadian tour stops. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy for the people of Thunder Bay that they get to see Eddie, but it is a bit of a "one of these things is not like the others" on the list of cities he's visiting.

So I was amused to see, in Eddie's interview in the Ottawa Citizen, “I’m excited to play Thunder Bay because I assume it’s an exciting place where Thunder happens.”

So here's a few more Canadian place names about which one could draw similar conclusion:
 Add your own in the comments!

Good morning!

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

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Things They Should Study: what kinds of wear and tear are and aren't avoidable with quality manufacturing?

Conventional wisdom is that good-quality products last longer and cheaply-made products wear out faster.

But this isn't necessarily going to apply for every single kind of wear and tear.

For example, because my gait is uneven, the outside back corner of my shoe heels wears out long before anything else.  I've owned shoes at a wide range of price points, and this has happened with every pair that I've worn enough times.  It therefore stands to reason that it's going to happen regardless of the quality of the shoes.  (Unless shoes with 4-digit or higher prices, which I can't afford, won't wear out from uneven gait.)

A lot of my things that wear out seem to be from similar causes. The fabric of my coats gets threadbare where my purse hangs.  My rug gets threadbare under my desk chair.  Would better quality products not wear out in these ways (or wear out slower?) Or would everything wear out unevenly from an uneven application of friction (and therefore it's not worth it to buy more expensive if this is the first thing that wears out)?

As I've mentioned before, I buy cheap earbuds and treat them with no care whatsoever.  And my earbuds always die within a few months.  But are do they keep dying because they're cheap, or because I treat them with no care whatsoever?  In other words, if I bought high-quality earbuds and continued to treat them with no care whatsoever, would they last me years and years?

It would be really useful if someone could study different kinds of wear and tear in different quality levels of products and determine for us what kinds of wear and tear can be avoided by buying better-quality products, and what kinds are unavoidable regardless.  Then, if our possessions wear out from unavoidable wear and tear before avoidable wear and tear kicks in, we'll know that we're buying at a sufficient quality level for our needs.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My schoolwork/studying technique

Since I've posted my essay-writing technique, I thought I'd also post my approach to schoolwork and studying.

I spent a designated amount of time on schoolwork per day per class.  Extrapolating from guidelines in my high school student handbook, I started with 15 minutes per day per class in Grade 9, and gradually increased it to 30 minutes per day per class in university.

Note that I worked with the total amount of time, rather than distributing it evenly among all my classes.  This means that, for example, in a university semester where I was taking 6 courses, I'd do a total of 3 hours of schoolwork each day, but I wouldn't necessarily do an equal amount for each course, or even do work for every course every day.

I'd decide what to work on by simple chronology.  I wrote down every deadline (reading, assignments, tests, projects, exams) in my calendar, and would spend my designated hours of schoolwork on whatever was due next.

If the next thing due was a test to be studied for (as opposed to an assignment that can be definitively completed), I'd do one round of studying for the test, then go on to the next deadline, then do another round of studying for the test, then do the next deadline, then do another round of studying for the test, and so on and so forth until I wrote the test.  What a "round of studying" actually was would depend on the nature of the test.  It could be reading through all the relevant parts of the textbook, it could be quizzing myself on the material that would be on the test, it could be doing practice exams.  

If the next thing due was a group project and my group hadn't yet sorted itself out enough for me to know what exactly I needed to do for the project, I'd work on it anyway.  I'd just open up a Word document and start typing up reasonable content for the project.  Then, at the end of the day's session, I'd email what I had to the rest of the group.  I'd frame it as "I've been thinking about the project, and I think better by actually writing stuff down, so I threw together a partial, very rough draft.  Feel free to critique whatever you don't like, or appropriate anything you do like, and we can maybe use it as a basis for discussion and planning for the rest of the project."  I didn't think of this approach until university, and by then my classmates most often appreciated my work (as opposed to earlier grades, where they'd reject my work because I'm not cool, even though my work was objectively correct), so the end result of this was a not-insignificant chunk of the project was done, anyone who was worse than I am could see what needed to be done to get the project up to my level, anyone who was better than I am could catch anything I needed to improve early on, and the entire group would be nudged into a "time to do the project" mindset without having to actually schedule a meeting.

The most important thing about this method is to always do the designated hours of work, starting on the day you receive your course syllabus and every single day until you've finished your last project or exam, even when you don't have any imminent deadlines. What would usually happen is I'd get way ahead on my reading in the first couple of weeks when there weren't many assignments yet, which would pay off when assignments picked up later on in the semester, when deadlines started catching up with me and I spent most of my time working on the next day's deadlines.  I'd pull ahead again during reading week, where I'd make some progress on final projects and studying for final exams, which had the added advantage of letting the material fester in my head for a bit once classes resumed and I was getting more imminent deadlines.

What was most valuable about this technique for me personally was that it gave me a definite point at which I could stop studying guilt-free.  I'm naturally inclined to feel the burden of everything I have to do ever ("OMG, I have to pay off my mortgage! And save for retirement!  Right now!"), so it's beneficial to me to have a system where all I have to do is study for three hours, regardless of how much or how little I get done in that time, and after the three hours are up I'm Officially Done for the Day.