Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books read in December 2014


1. Crashed by Timothy Hallinan
2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
5. Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
6. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
8. The Ig Nobel Prizes by Marc Abrahams


1. Treachery in Death
2. New York to Dallas
3. Chaos in Death

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fanfic drought

Another recent stressor has been that the In Death fansite has stopped posting fanfiction, and another reliable source has not yet materialized.

The In Death universe is my current fandom happy place, and a steady flow of fanfic is a vital part of maintaining that happy place.  Rereading isn't nearly as effective at giving me the same happy as a new story, and since there are only two novels and possibly one novella a year (I know this is a lot for an author to write, but it isn't a lot for a reader to read), I turned to fanfic.  When I worked in the office and I had to do an emotionally devastating translation, I'd take a break to walk to the nearest wifi hotspot and open up the day's fanfic updates on my ipod.  Then I'd maintain my equilibrium by taking breaks in the In Death universe throughout my workday. When I have a panic attack, I deal with the trigger, have a glass of wine, call a friend if I need to be talked down, and then read fanfic until I can't keep my eyes open any longer.  When, in the course of day to day life, I get a feeling that's best described as "I wanna go home!", there's an implicit "...and read fanfic!" to it.  If I go home and there isn't any fanfic to read, the "I wanna go home!" feeling isn't 100% assuaged.

My latest round of condo drama was in November, which is NaNoWriMo, and therefore a lean period for fanfic as our authors try to write their novels instead.  And I'm sure a good part of the reason why this condo drama was so stressful for me was that most days there wasn't any new fanfic for me to read, so I couldn't fully reboot my brain as much as I needed to.

At this point, some people will feel moved to recommend things for me to read instead.  While I always welcome reading recommendations, that is a solution to a different problem.  The problem here is not something to read, the problem here is something to make me feel a certain way.  I can't articulate this feeling apart from "fandom happy place" and "rebooting my brain", and only new, quality content from my current fandom happy place makes me feel that particular way.  This is a very rare phenomenon.  It has only happened before with Harry Potter and Eddie Izzard.  Harry Potter fanfic doesn't work any more because I got closure on the fandom with the final book.  Eddie Izzard doesn't have fanfic, what with being a real person rather than a fictional universe, but I got this same feeling from watching everything he's ever done.  However, I caught up on Eddie completely, and now new stuff arrives only sporadically.  The vast majority of my ongoing fandoms don't generate this happy feeling.  Even Star Trek and Monty Python never generated this happy feeling, even though they were my primary fandoms for well over a decade.  I never even had this feeling before Harry Potter.  It's quite rare, and not readily reproducible.

So not only do I have no new fanfic to reboot my brain and take me back to my happy place during the two weeks when I'll be without my computer, but I also have the looming spectre of no reliable source of new fanfic for the indefinite future. Even though I still have my other amusements and comforts, this casts a certain gloom over everything.

Analogy: the effect of In Death fanfiction in my brain is like the effect of cheese in salad.  You can make a salad without cheese, but it's yummier and somehow more complete with a wee sprinkling of cheese. The flavour of the cheese complements and enhances the flavour of everything else, and it just doesn't satisfy my needs quite as well without the cheese.  While I can handle a salad without cheese without too much complaint, the prospect of a future without a reliable source of cheese is terrifying!

I know that some people reading this will have thoughts about the appropriateness of fanfiction as a happy place and other things that would make more appropriate happy places. If you feel moved to share these thoughts, my upcoming post or two (haven't yet worked out if it will be one or two posts) on resilience and emotional management will be a more useful place for them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Contemplating my next computer

All of my computers have been Dells, always because I got at least five years out of the computer and was extremely happy with their warranty support.

With my current computer, I've had a number of experiences (not all of which I've blogged) that have led me to question my loyalty to Dell.  These aren't so much technical problems, but customer service problems - not getting call-backs when I'm supposed to, people on the phone who aren't empowered to keep promises made to me by the Dell website or personalized mailings I received, repeatedly getting my call dropped when getting transferred to the person who can allegedly solve my problem, etc.

Because of this, I'm not automatically going to Dell for my next computer.  I haven't done comprehensive research yet, but the internet suggests that other brands like Asus/Acer (I don't remember which it was - obviously I'll have to research more) may have better components, so I'm considering looking for higher quality elsewhere.

But, at the same time, my current problems make me realize how much I value warranty support. I'm aware of the economic argument against extended warranties, but, for hardware problems especially, I like having the option of making it someone else's problem.  But I haven't been able to find any other companies that have warranties as long or comprehensive as Dell's.

The internet has also suggested the possibility of buying from Dell's "small business" store rather than their "home" store, on the grounds that the "small business" end of things apparently has better user support.  I haven't looked into that extensively, but it's on the table.

At this point, someone usually suggests that I build my own.  I'm reluctant to do so because I'm clumsy.  After observing technicians dismantle and reassemble my current computer, I'm afraid that if I tried to build one myself, I'd use too much force or something trying to snap components together and break some circuit board or plastic bit, rendering the whole thing useless.  Paying money for components and putting time and effort into assembling them with the end result being a computer is one thing, but paying money for components and putting time and effort into assembling them only to destroy something and create an expensive paperweight is another thing. My computer is too important to me to put it at the mercy of my fine motor skills.

And, at this point, someone usually suggests that I get a Mac.  But I'm reluctant to do so based on my experience with other Apple products.  I don't particularly want to pay a premium for something that's soon going to be treated by the manufacturer as obsolete and non-maintainable, at least as compared with my current technology usage patterns.

But another option might be to start treating my computers as disposable, i.e. spend only a few hundred dollars for something that I don't expect to last longer than a year rather than a couple thousand in an attempt to get five years out of it.  Doing this may eliminate any bad feelings of regret at spending big money on something that doesn't end up working beautifully for many years, and might even introduce an element of happiness when it comes time to upgrade - "YAY, I get a better computer!" as opposed to the current "WAAH! I have to shop for a computer!"  But I don't really feel very good about the idea of deliberately buying lesser quality with the expectation of throwing it out.  In general, it seems more ethical and, frankly, classier to buy quality and longevity whenever possible.

Thoughts welcome. I'd particularly be interested in firsthand experience with warranty support from retailers or manufacturers other than Dell.

Monday, December 22, 2014


From the Toronto Star (can't find an online link, typos are my own):
This year your creativity soars. You also seem to develop your intuitive ability. The unexpected occurs within your domestic life. With so much going on, you'll want to simplify your life where you can. if you are single, someone you meet in your daily routine could come to mean a lot more to you. You are likely to meet a special person after spring 2015. If you are attached, the two of you might opt to try out a different lifestyle. A fellow Capricorn will be less flexible than you are.
From the Globe & Mail:

A new moon on your birthday indicates that the coming 12 months will be extra special. Wherever you go and whatever you do you will attract the right people at the right time to get the right things done. How can you lose? You can’t – so enjoy it
The Toronto Star one makes me nervous.  It's the sort of thing that sounds good on the surface (like it's pointing to  productivity and good luck and marriage!) but it upon closer reading it sounds more like the "unexpected [occuring in my] domestic life" would be something bad that leads to upheaval, and the creativity, intuitive ability and desire to simplify are born out of necessity during a period of upheaval.  A person meaning a lot more to me also doesn't sound necessarily positive. That would also be true if I had a stalker or an unwanted pregnancy.

The last time my birthday horoscopes made me nervous was in 2009, and 2010 (the year to which that horoscope applied) ended up being the year I developed Entitlement.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What to do if you're offended at being offered a senior's discount

DEAR ABBY: I was at the hairdresser yesterday, and when I went to the register to pay, the receptionist asked me if I was over 65 "so I could get the senior discount." Abby, I am only 55! I found her question insulting, and several of my friends have had this same experience. I appreciate the young woman trying to save me a couple of dollars, but I'd rather pay full price than be asked if I want the discount.
Why don't businesses that offer senior citizen discounts just post a notice near the register? That way, if a customer is entitled to it, she or he can ask for it when they check out rather than have to hear that they look older than they are. -- INSULTED IN PEORIA, ARIZ.

I suggest that if you are offended by being offered the discount, you should say yes to the discount. Even if you aren't old enough.

By accepting the discount, you are disincentivizing the business from proactively offering the discount, by creating a situation where the more they offer the discount, the more money it costs them.  You're also getting yourself some compensation for your hurt feelings.

Some people will object to this on the ground that it's lying, and if you do object on those grounds you are, of course, free not to do this.  But since some people are apparently so insulted at being offered the discount that they feel moved to write to Dear Abby, I feel that accepting the discount is proportionate retribution.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

BIOS sometimes (but not always) doesn't recognize the operating system on my hard drive

The computer: Dell XPS 15 running Windows 7

In early December, one of the built-in diagnostics found that the hard drive failed a "SMART short self test" and a "targeted read test", which meant that failure was imminent. 

I'm still under warranty, so I got it promptly replaced by in-home service, successfully reimaged, and life proceeded as normal.  I cheerfully chalked this up to my standard "Dell saves my ass with a major repair just before the warranty expires" narrative that's happened with every computer I've owned, and carried on with life.

Two days later, I booted up and it said it couldn't find the operating system.  I freaked out and called tech support, and during one of the reboots that happened while they were running me through diagnostics, Windows suddenly booted up normally.

Over the next several days, this happened every time I booted up.  BIOS wouldn't find the operating system on the hard drive the first time or two (or three or six), but then it would find it for no discernable reason.  And after it did find it and boot up Windows, everything would proceed beautifully.

Over the course of several days, on the phone with a Dell rep whom I've spoken to more than any other human being this month, we ran every diagnostic in the book, repaired the boot sector, reinstalled Windows a couple of times, and manipulated all the potentially-relevant BIOS settings.  The problem still persisted.  Boot-up failed more often than not, but once it succeeded everything worked normally.

From a technological standpoint, this problem would occur somewhere in the connection between the hard drive and the motherboard. So, finally, they had a tech come in (with the beautiful in-home warranty service I paid a premium for when I bought my computer) and replace my motherboard and my hard drive.  I reinstalled Windows, booted up successfully a couple of times, reimaged, and got on with life.

But then, the next morning, the problem reoccurred again!  BIOS didn't recognize that there was an operating system on the hard drive, despite the fact that literally everything that might be contributing to this problem had been replaced!

So now they tell me that the only choice is to send it in to the depot, which would leave me without a computer for a total of 7 to 10 business days.  This makes me very sad.  My computer is central to my social life, play and creativity (fortunately I have another for my work), and is the absolute core of my happy place and self-care. The idea of being without a computer for 2 weeks is a grey cloud lurking over my head. I literally feel like there's something ominous standing behind me.  I told the tech (and he agreed) that I don't want to send it out before January so it doesn't incur further delays what with all the statutory holidays this time of year, but even though I get to enjoy my computer during this difficult holiday period, I'm still feeling impending dread about the prospect of 2 weeks without it.

I understand from a diagnostic perspective why they'd want to look at it in person in a depot (I found myself thinking during this process that it would be faster if I could just take it in somewhere and sit down with a tech at a workbench who had a lot of different tools and components and just try stuff out), but it's just disheartening to have to be without a computer for so long when I've already paid a premium for a warranty that includes on-site service.

There's one factor in all this that we haven't been able to test or rule out: the brand of the hard drive.  Both replacement hard drives that the BIOS doesn't reliably recognize have been Western Digital (which was also the brand of the external hard drive I used to own that was giving me problems.)  The previous drive (which never once had this problem) was Samsung.  When I googled around the problem of the BIOS sometimes not recognizing that the hard drive has an operating system, I found Western Digital hard drives were disproportionately represented.  But it seems like Dell, like most large companies, buys equipment in bulk, so they have no mechanism for providing me with a different brand of hard drive.  I don't know if the depot would be able to do this either.

So that's my current emotional crisis.  If you've ever successfully solved this problem of BIOS sporadically not recognizing the operating system on a hard drive, I'd love to hear in the comments how you solved it!  If your answer is going to be to buy a different type of computer, please save it for my upcoming post contemplating the purchase of my next computer.

Update: After two attempts at depot repair, Dell finally installed a Samsung brand drive, which, just as I suspected, made the problem go away. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dreams of being stalked

Lately I've been having dreams of being stalked and harassed to an extent that has never happened in real life.

For example:

1. I dreamed I was an astronaut on my way to go to space.  (This is not an uncommon theme in my dreams - quite often I'm an astronaut on my way to space when I get interrupted by people being mean.)  I was walking to my spaceship, and this gang of frat boy types came along and kept blocking my path and catcalling me.

2. I dreamed I was grocery shopping, and one of my purchases was a bottle of champagne.  (Yes, from the grocery store. Apparently my subconscious doesn't know Ontario liquor laws.)  The cashier, who was a very tall, large, imposing teenage boy, packed all my groceries normally, then opened the bottle of champagne and started pouring it over the rest of the groceries.  I was shocked and told him to stop, but he just kept mocking me for not liking him pouring my champagne all over my groceries.  I called for the manager by shouting "MANAGER! MANAGER!" and all the people in line joined in calling for the manager, until the manager eventually came over and made him stop. But then, as I walked home, the cashier started following me and yelling at me for complaining that he'd poured champagne all over my groceries.

The strongest correlation of these dreams is computer-related stress.  If I go to bed feeling stress or nerves because of computer issues, I'm highly likely to have a dream of being stalked or harassed.

Psychoanalyze that!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Things I Don't Understand: smoothies

People talk about smoothies like they save time, but they don't!  Preparing fruits etc. to go in a smoothie requires at least as much preparation as to eat them raw.  If you're going to eat a whole raw apple or peach, you just wash it and eat it, throwing out the core/pit at the end.  But if you're putting it in a smoothie, you have to cut it open and remove the core/pit.  And that's before we even get into the question of whether you need to cut things up somewhat before putting them in the blender (depends on the nature of the fruit and the nature of the blender, I'd imagine).

In addition to the utensils, dishes etc. required to prepare the ingredients and serve the smoothie, you also have to wash the blender that you make it in, which is probably harder than washing the rest of the stuff given the thickness of the smoothie.

And the texture of the smoothie is another thing - it's too liquid to feel like you're eating so you don't get the satisfaction of "Yay, I just ate some food!" but it's also too thick to drink easily and mindlessly. 

Unless you, like, don't have teeth or something, I see no advantages whatsoever and every disadvantage over eating actual food.  But the vast majority of people who think smoothies are the be all and end all of healthy eating appear to have teeth.

What gives?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Blogger is imposing captchas on me against my will

Recently, captchas appeared on my comments pages.  I didn't put them there, my comment settings have Word Verification set to "No", but they're still there.  I even see them when logged in with my own account as blog author!

And to add insult to injury, my spam comment queue is still full, with multiple spam comments a day.  This means the spammers are getting past the captchas, but the captchas are still there inconveniencing real people who might want to comment!

Not impressed, Blogger!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Extended public celebration of Christmas is unkind to children

My fairy goddaughter, who just turned 3, is getting impatient about waiting for Christmas.  Some days, the fact that Santa isn't coming tonight reduces her to tears!  Yes, it's just a couple of weeks away, but think about that in terms of proportions: she's 3 and I'm 33, so 2 weeks for her is like 22 weeks for me. That's nearly half a year!

Stores and TV channels and media in general have been in xmas mode since the beginning of November, for a total of nearly 2 months of christmassing.  But, for my fairy goddaughter, that's like 22 months, or nearly 2 years!  Imagine hearing "Santa is coming soon!" for 2 years!  And imagine this in a context where Santa coming is The Most Exciting Thing You Can Imagine, and where you haven't yet developed the cynicism to say "Meh, that's what they always say"! 

I think it's extremely unkind to get my fairy goddaughter's hopes up for such a painfully long time.  If Christmas is supposed to be for the children, it should be scaled down to something the poor kids can manage!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Things They Should Invent:

My fairy goddaughter has an uncommon name.  I decided I'd try to find a book with a protagonist who shares her name and, after much searching, was able to find one.  Unfortunately, it wasn't currently in print in Canada and the library didn't have it, so I had to order it from the UK.  Because of this, I didn't know how the protagonist was portrayed or what the moral of the story was.

(I prefer to curate the books I give to children as gifts.  While I don't object to people - including children - reading junk or fluff (as I'm sure you've noticed from this year's experiment of posting the books I read), I like to give them things that are quality.)

Fortunately, my fairy goddaughter can't read yet, so her parents could screen the book for appropriate message and characterization.  If it's not appropriate, they can just not read it to her.

But by this time next year, she'll probably be able to read. So if I decide to send her a book that I can't preview first for whatever reason, she will be able to read it right away without the story being screened for appropriateness first (or, at least, end up in the awkward situation of her parents wanting to take away a book she's enthusiastic about reading.)

And, just a couple of years later, she'll be reading chapter books.  It's one thing to plop down in Mabel's Fables and read a pile of picture books that are a dozen pages each with only a couple of sentences on each page, to make sure that the characterization and moral of each book is something I want to put in front of a child I love.  But it would be quite another thing to have to read several hundred pages (even in the large, easy font of children's chapter books) in order to make an informed choice.  Especially since the pool of children I buy books for is rapidly expanding (Baby Cousin 3.0 just made his debut a few days ago!) and I try not to duplicate purchases among children who are acquainted with each other and might plausibly visit each other's homes and paw through each other's bookshelves. 

 My proposed solution: a single comprehensive website ( that describes the ending and moral of children's books.  (Example: "Ending: he tries green eggs and ham and likes it. Moral of the story: try new foods, you might like them.")  It could also give a brief description of the characterization of the named characters  (or, if that's too much, just the title character), so before you buy Amelia Bedelia for a little girl named Amelia, you know that Amelia Bedelia is a bit of a ditz but an excellent baker.

There are websites to tell you whether various children's media is too scary or too "adult" - the exact reasons why they're rated PG, for example.  But, at least for books that are so young they're definitely rated G, I haven't been able to find any single reliable source of the moral of the story or the characterization of the protagonist.

It would be especially useful to integrate this into Amazon, since children's books bought sight unseen would most likely be bought on the internet.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Books read in November 2014


1. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
2. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain with Lisa Pulitzer
3. The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley
4. Hild by Nicola Griffith
5. Longbourn by Jo Baker


1. Indulgence in Death
2. Possession in Death

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The opportunity to be good at something

I recently realized that, based on the various jobs I've had, the "better" my job is (in the sense of more specialized, socially seen to be of higher calibre, requiring more education and training and experience, better paid), the easier it is for me.  And I don't mean easy in the sense that I get to sit in a comfy chair and wear whatever I want and not have to talk to anyone instead of being on my feet dealing with customers all day (although that's true as well).  I mean easy in the sense that if I do my best and use my own best judgment, I'm very likely to land on the results that make my clients and employer happy.  When I worked in fast food, somehow my best work and best judgment just didn't align with customer and/or employer expectations.

I've been reading a lot of novels with historical settings lately, where the characters are uneducated or undereducated and have to do a lot of unskilled or physical labour.  If I'd lived in that era (assuming I'd managed to survive birth, childhood, etc.), I simply wouldn't have been much good at my work.  With practice I would have fought my way up to competent, but I just don't have the potential to become exceptional - or even above average - at things that are physical and tangible, or at people work.

My whole life I've heard that I'm lucky to live here and now because I get to have an education and live independently.  But what's more interesting to think about is that living in this situation gives me the opportunity to excel - like, to excel at something, anything. I'm good with academic and professional things, and I never would have discovered that if I lived in an era where I didn't get the chance to do academic and professional things.  I'm bad at people work and physical work, and that's probably the majority of what I would have been doing if I'd been born in an earlier age. I've always been labelled as smart because I glommed onto literacy and numeracy quickly and easily, but in an earlier age I would have been the village idiot because I'd be a mediocre housemaid or weaver or subsistence farmer or something, with no appreciable skills in any area.  I'd never even have been exposed to things I'd be good at doing.

I wonder how many people are currently in that situation - the things they're good at haven't been invented yet or are far out of reach of the non-elite?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What if suicide prevention were removed from the mandate of mental health care?

When Robin Williams committed suicide, many people responded with the "Genie, you're free" scene from Aladdin. This response received a lot of criticism, some of which argued that suicide isn't freedom.

It occurred to me that the problem with this statement is it's clearly unknowable.  The author has no way of knowing with the amount of certainty they claim that you don't find freedom or peace after death.

And, because of this, their anti-suicide message has no credibility in the eyes of those considering suicide.  They're quite clearly just saying stuff to perpetuate the message of Suicide Is Bad.  So a person considering suicide isn't going to listen to them, because they're obviously just going to unquestioningly say Suicide Is Bad regardless of the truth of the matter.  (And if suicide is in fact Bad, you'd think they could come up with something substantiated to support that position.)

Then it occurred to me that this might be the symptom of a broader problem in mental health care and emergency response.

If I were suicidal, I would never even consider seeking medical attention, because I feel like they'd just want to stop me from committing suicide.  They'd restrain me in a mental ward somewhere and declare the job done, or monitor me for the rest of my life and never leave me a moment's peace.  Sounds like hell!

But what if health care as a whole recognized a person's right to end their life? Your body, your choice!  They don't prevent, persuade, coerce or manipulate you into not committing suicide.  It's considered a perfectly valid choice.

However, since it is also a drastic - and irreversible - choice, they strongly urge you to try less drastic approaches first.  Take a pill, talk to a doctor - the mental health equivalent of rebooting your computer and maybe reinstalling the OS rather than going straight to throwing it out the window. If it hurts, the doctor will give you something to try to stop it from hurting.  If you're feeling nothing, the doctor will give you something to try to make you feel again.  If your fish are dead, the doctor will try to resuscitate them.  If it doesn't work, you're no worse off than you were before and you can always kill yourself later!

Some people will argue "But when I was suicidal, I didn't actually want to kill myself.  I wanted to stop wanting to kill myself."  That's fine, a person could still go to the doctor and say "I have suicidal feelings and I don't like them! Can you help me make them stop?" But if the patient feels their suicidal feelings are valid, the doctor won't force them to do anything about it.

Analogy: if you've never gotten pregnant and you want to have children, you can go to the doctor and request assistance with conceiving.  But if you've never been pregnant and you're okay with that, they don't force fertility treatment on you.

And some people will argue "When I wanted to kill myself, it was just the depression talking. Once I received help, I came to realize that I didn't want to kill myself."  If that's the case, this approach will still achieve the same results.  The hurting/sadness/feeling nothing/dead fish will be treated, the patient will come to the realization they didn't actually want to kill themselves, and life would proceed as usual.

But if you want something right this moment and someone tells you "I'm going to take you to a doctor who will make you not want the thing you want," that would feel like they're going to brainwash you.  And if the doctor's mandate is to do everything in their power to prevent you from achieving what you want, you'd probably actively avoid them, perhaps even going as far as to deceive people about your condition and situation so they don't brainwash/restrain/monitor you in a way that would make it impossible to achieve your goal.

Building on the fertility treatment analogy above: suppose you tell a loved one that you want to have children, and they respond by taking you to a doctor who will make you not want children.  Or, based on the information you have absorbed from media/culture/society, you believe that a doctor would respond by taking all measures to prevent you from having children, up to and including forcibly sterilizing you. 

Or the inverse: suppose you don't want to have children, and a loved one responds by taking you to a doctor who will make you want to have children. And the information you have received throughout your life leads you to believe that the doctor would go as far as forcibly impregnating you.

Would this make you feel safe seeking medical treatment?  Or would it make you want to avoid it at all costs?


Removing the suicide prevention mandate might also help reduce the criminalization of mental health patients. 

There was recently a series in the Toronto Star about how people are failing police checks they need for employment because they are known to police (even though they were never found guilty and in some cases never arrested or charged).  And some of them are known to police because police attended a mental health call.  The police were called because the person was considered a threat to themselves, and in the messed up system of disclosure for background checks there's no differentiation between being a threat to oneself and a threat to others.

If health care professionals were not mandated to prevent suicide, there'd be no such thing as involving the police because someone is a threat to themselves.  Killing yourself would be considered your own decision to make, even if it's ill-advised, so there'd be no reason to forcibly stop you.

Analogy: if someone wants risky ill-advised elective surgery and they're proactively trying to get this surgery, this isn't considered a reason for police intervention.  Even if getting the surgery would harm them, that's between them and their doctors. 

Since there's no police involvement, people won't have police records dogging them just because they were once suicidal, so they'd have the full range of employment and travel options still available to them. Surely this would make for a better recovery than being shut out of jobs where they can do good just because they were once suicidal!

Yes, this aspect could also be addressed by police only disclosing appropriate and pertinent information in background checks, but I feel like the medical profession could be more easily persuaded to make helpful decisions than the police.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The time I accidentally meditated

I've been carrying around a lot of stress and worry and general disproportionate bad feelings about the latest round of condo drama for about the last week and a half. (I think it's almost over...)

So on Saturday evening I went to bed early, then woke up at 8 a.m. on Sunday, which is uncharacteristically early for me.  I went to the bathroom as usual, and realized that I was physiologically done sleeping, but I still really wanted to be in bed under the covers.  I couldn't explain why, I just wanted to snuggle up in bed more than anything else.

Well, I figured, it's only 8:00, I'm usually still asleep now, it's a Sunday, I'm getting back under the covers!

So I snuggled up in my usual fetal position, surrounded by my nest of pillows, cocooned in my big fluffy duvet, with my sentries in position...and didn't fall asleep.  I just lay there. My eyes didn't close.  I just lay there.

But my brain didn't do anything.  Normally if I return to bed after waking up to pee, I either drift in and out of dreamland, or start thinking through things that need to be thought through, or start mentally writing fiction.  But none of that happened.  I just lay there.  Not sleeping, not thinking.  Just lying there.  For two hours.  With my mind blank.

It was nice, very peaceful.

I think that's what meditation is supposed to be, and I've never done it before.  I tried later to duplicate it on demand, and I couldn't turn my brain off.  But this one time it happened organically, without my even trying, and I enjoyed it.

Interestingly, the only time I've ever done visualization was also during a round of condo drama.  Maybe this endeavour will prove to be mind-expanding...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Improper use of photoshop

In the past year, there have been a lot of fit and flare dresses in stores that have one thing on common: when I put them on, it looks like they shrunk vertically.  It's not just that the hemline is high, it's the entire proportions of the dress somehow make it look like it shrunk vertically in the wash and/or that I'm a child who had a growth spurt.

I know it's specific to this season's fashion as opposed to a change in my body shape because all my old dresses fit the same way they always have.  It's just that every time I try on a dress that's new in stores this year, I find myself wishing I could photoshop it to stretch the length by like 20%

While trying to google up a picture of this phenomenon, I stumbled upon the image below from Fashion Bomb Daily:

The lady on the left is actress/comedian/writer Mindy Kaling.  The lady on the right is modelling the same dress in the designer's catalogue.

The way the dress fits Ms. Kaling is similar to the way similar dresses fit me that I dislike (although it's worse on me), and the way it fits the catalogue model is the way I wish they fit me.

At first I thought this was because my body's far more similar to Ms. Kaling's than it is to the catalogue model's.  But then, when I looked more closely, I realized the proportions of the dress in the two pictures are different.  On Ms. Kaling, the skirt of the dress is 130% of the length of the bodice (putting a ruler up against my monitor, the skirt is 3.6 cm long, measured vertically from the waistband; the bodice is 2.7 cm long measured vertically from the highest part of the shoulder to the waistband).  On the model, the skirt is 182% of the length of the bodice (skirt 3.1 cm, bodice 1.7 cm).

So, in response to the design problems that caused me to wish I could photoshop the dress longer, it looks like they actually did photoshop the dress longer!

Using photoshop to make the model appear more flawless is one thing, but using it to correct design flaws when attempting to sell a dress is quite another!  If the proportions of the dress are so bad that it has to be photoshopped to look good on a model who was specifically cast to make the dress look good, the dress should have been redesigned long before the photoshoot.  And if the designer can't make a dress with proportions that look good even on a model, perhaps they're in the wrong line of work.

57 channels and nothing on

This whole blog post is obsolete, in that it applies to the world before streaming and on-demand.  However, it just occurred to me now, so I'm blogging it now.

People complain that there's hardly ever anything good on TV, that there are so many channels but only a few show anything you want to watch, and even then there's only one or two things a day you're interested in out of the whole day's programming.

It just occurred to me that this is good.  We don't want every single TV channel to show us stuff we enthusiastically want to watch every minute of every day, because we could never get to it all.  We want a maximum of one thing worth watching on at any given moment.  And, for the vast majority of the day, we don't even want that.  We need to sleep, we need to go to work, we need to shower, we need to do errands and chores - all kinds of things that are incompatible with watching TV.  Really all we want is a maximum of maybe 2 hours of programming that we're enthusiastic about in any given day - maybe more on a rainy Saturday, maybe less on a day when there's soccer practice.  I myself find that about four shows a week meets my needs quite nicely.

But quality programming 24/7 on every single channel would just be a recipe for frustration.

My latest Twitter win

The negatives of having a system

As I've blogged about before, I have a system and I find it beneficial.  But there are two consequences of this that sometimes seem a bit negative.

1. I don't feel like I have spare time.

If you were to ask me what I do in my spare time, my first answer would be that I don't have spare time.  I don't feel like any time spent doing something I'm "supposed to" be doing is spare, or any time that is scheduled is spare.  I've been surprised to hear other people say that they do yoga in their spare time, because to me it's a chore. Time spent on things that are objectively recreational but my system requires me to do, like reading books and newspapers, doesn't feel like spare time either, because I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing at that moment. Even something that's pure fun like going to see Eddie Izzard or going out to dinner doesn't feel like spare time, because it's an appointment - I have to be in a specific place at a specific time, so the time isn't spare.  (For this reason, appointment television doesn't feel like spare time either, and I haven't idly channel-surfed since I transitioned to idly internetting.)

2. Tasks that aren't part of the system are disruptive

When something unexpected comes up, it disrupts the system.  Having to go to a place and do a thing gets in the way of completing the day's system.  Even if it's seeing Eddie Izzard - something welcome, enjoyable, anticipated, unquestionably worth doing - it still interferes with the day's system.  I can't do all the things I'm "supposed"  to do because I have to do the exceptional thing.  I haven't yet figured out how to make the system flexible enough to seamlessly incorporate exceptional circumstances.  I have a few measures I do take, but I'm not there yet.

Despite these problems, I still think having a system has enormous value in the long term. It lets me get shit done without even trying.  And it gives me a point where I can rightfully stop doing stuff (even if I don't reach that point many days), so I don't get overwhelmed by everything I ever have to accomplish in my entire life and feel guilty for not having paid off the mortgage and finished saving for retirement.

I also think it will be useful to have the system as an ingrained habit when I reach my declining years. When I look at my grandparents in long-term care, it seems like the difference between peace and despair is a sense of "this is what I'm going to do today" rather than sitting around waiting for something interesting to happen. If I can automate the system well enough that it survives the loss of my faculties, hopefully my elderly self will just keep going through her daily routine by rote.  Wake up, go to the bathroom, collect the newspapers (maybe not print newspapers any more when I'm elderly), boot up the computer (maybe not a computer any more when I'm elderly), open the blinds, sun salutation, etc. etc. Keep moving forward, no room for despair.  (Which is why I invented the system during a period of unemployment in the first place!)

And if I need a break from it, hey, spare time!

Easy vs. hard, virtue vs. laziness: a braindump

1. In my last post, I mentioned how I can't cope with interior decorating but can do my job well.  This is because my job is easy, or at least is easy for me.

2. Conventional wisdom dictates that you're supposed to challenge yourself, and just doing what's easy is lazy and coasting and slothful and generally non-virtuous.

3. So am I doing a bad thing by choosing a job that is easy for me?  Would it have been more virtuous to go into engineering like grownups were always pressuring me to do, and do something that I struggle with and might sometimes even fail?

4. Or was it virtuous to choose something I'm good at, thereby giving the world an always-competent translator with the potential to become exceptional, rather than giving the world a mediocre engineer?

5. My approach to life as a whole is similar: I arrange things to make them easy for myself. The vast, vast majority of the time, everything I do is something I can handle without breaking a sweat, because I have eliminated the need for the things that make me struggle.  Is that laziness?  Or is it cleverness that I've been able to find workarounds for the hard stuff?

6. But, again, making things easier reduces the chance of failure, which makes me less of a burden to other people.  If I fail to pay my rent on time or crash a car in an ill-advised attempt to drive, I'm inconveniencing others.  If my little corner of the world just quietly and unremarkably runs smoothly, I'm minimizing my footprint.

7. Also, if I make my life easy, I'm less stressed.  When I'm stressed, I have trouble keeping my emotions to a civilized level, which also makes me a burden to people who have the misfortune of having to interact with me, and makes my life more difficult because it's detrimental to my credibility.

8. Or is behaving like a civilized person at all times while stressed just another hard thing I should be doing to challenge myself?

9. Another one for the Things They Should Quantify list: the optimal balance between challenging yourself and not being a burden to others.

What if we could objectively quantify competence?

I blogged before about how it would be interesting if we could objectively quantify luck. 

With the latest round of condo drama, I've been feeling extremely incompetent because I simply cannot cope with the very notion of interior decorating, and despite the fact that many people in the world have problems that are many thousands of orders of magnitude more serious, I still can't get my head together and just get this shit done.  I just can't.  I'm stuck, and had to go crying for help.

But while this was going on, I was also doing some stuff for work that's sound pretty hardcore and serious, although in reality it's no big deal, I just sit down and get it done.  I thought about this, and was amused at the fact that I could handle this serious work stuff without blinking but still can't even cope with the very notion of interior decorating.

Then I found myself debating: is my competence at work enough to make up for my incompetence at even thinking about interior decorating?  Or does the fact that I can't help but make big hairy drama out of something as inconsequential as interior decorating far outweigh the simple everyday act of being competent at my job like most people who do a job are?

It would be interesting if we could objectively quantify this, and people could know if they're good enough at enough things or if they have room for improvement.

Bad condo finish selection setup

A few days ago I got a call saying I have to make an appointment to choose my condo finishes.  But there are a lot of problems with how it's set up:

1. They don't provide you with a list of the decisions you have to make ahead of time.  I'm not just choosing colours, I'm also choosing materials.  And I don't know anything about materials.  And it's certainly not feasible to research every single possible material in the world!

2. You have to do it in-person.  It's the 21st century, you'd think they'd have a website where you can log on and put the different finishes on a simulation of your suite and see how they look together.  (Sims mods have been able to do that for at least 10 years!)

3. The office where you go to do this is only open weekdays during regular business hours.  A lot of people are at work during those hours!  I have to use my vacation time to do this! (And not everyone has the luxury of vacation time!)

4. You have to make the appointment within two weeks of when they call you.  On top of the problem of getting time off myself, this means I also have to find someone to help me who's can get some free time on a weekday at the same time as I can *and* at the same time as the office has an appointment slot available.  One of my closest friends (who is the mother of my fairy goddaughter) is very enthusiastic about this whole condo finish thing so I was quite happy to hand all the decision-making over to her, but she couldn't get childcare on a weekday within such short notice, so she couldn't do this thing we were both looking forward to.  Ultimately I ended up going crying to my mommy, who is knowledgeable about such things and fortunate enough to be retired so she can come and help me.

I've been happy with my builder so far and felt they're taking my needs as a regular person (as opposed to some posh investor who picks out condo units like they're choosing wine for a party) and a first-time buyer into consideration, but this condo finish selection setup makes me worried.  It feels like they're not taking into account that these are actual homes for actual human beings, not a game of monopoly where everyone's just trying to shuffle property around to make money.  It feels like they're trying to pressure me into making bad decisions.  I just feel so much less safe with this arrangement.

So I'm going to go in with my mother (in a total adulthood fail moment) and look at the stuff, and I'm totally prepared if necessary to walk out with no decisions made and a list of stuff to research. But that would still mean more vacation time to go back and make another appointment.

Really what they should have is a website where I can log in to see my unit and put different finishes on it, design and save different combinations, and let other people log in to look at it too.  Quite a few people I've talked to during this time think choosing condo finishes would be fun, but the vast majority of these people can't take time off on a weekday on such short notice. So I'd love to have it online and open it up and crowdsource the whole thing - let everyone who's interested put together a look and let people vote on them.  My friend could put together a look for me from the comfort of her own home after my fairy goddaughter is asleep, and maybe my fairy goddaughter could even put together a look herself! 

This would be good advertising for the builder, especially if they made it sharable on social media so everyone could crowdsource. It would be far easier for the end users, and it would probably save the builder some money on setting up and staffing a design centre.  If they found that people still wanted to look at stuff in person they could still have a design centre, but there wouldn't be as much traffic through it because a lot of the work could be done online.  It would be a win-win situation!

But, barring that, the very very very least they could do is send you a list of the decisions you're going to have to make ahead of time!

Current status (aka First World Problems)

I've been having some stress about having to choose my condo finishes. Then I've been feeling incompetent because I find this stressful.  Then I've been feeling stressed about feeling incompetent about finding this stressful.  Then I've been feeling guilty about feeling stressed about feeling incompetent about finding this stressful.

So, since I'm blogathoning today, some of my posts might be me working through this.  If you're a person with real problems, you might prefer to skip these posts.

I might also decide to stop wallowing in my head and post other stuff instead.  Not sure yet what's going to happen.

Good morning!

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

The marginal cost of buying happiness

Working from home is so good for me that I can't think of any reasonable salary increase that would induce me to switch to a job where I have to go into the workplace.  I might consider doing it on a temporary basis for some ridiculous amount of money - like if I earned enough in six months to pay off my entire mortgage - but only if I could be certain that I could return to my current arrangement afterwards. If not, it wouldn't be worth this.

Some people would use this as an argument in support of the idea that money can't buy happiness.  But the fact remains that quite a bit of the happiness I do have was bought with money.  It's not that more money wouldn't make me happier, it's that the cost in happiness of earning more money would be greater than the amount of happiness that additional money would buy me. 

So, if my quick googling has led me to the correct economic terminology, it's not that money can't buy happiness.  It's that there's a threshold where the marginal cost (in happiness) of more money is greater than the amount of happiness that that same money could buy.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Reaching for the dictionary

I'm currently reading Hild by Nicola Griffith (no spoilers please, I'm only a little ways in), which is set in 7th century English and therefore contains a lot of Old English words to describe concepts for which le mot juste doesn't quite exist in modern English.

My first instinct is to look up every one of these words I don't recognize, and, before I discovered the book has a glossary in the back (which still isn't as comprehensive as I need), I was rushing to Google every single time, which is intrusive, slowing down my reading and spoiling the atmosphere.

A while back I read a book in German for the first time in years. I've always had more difficulty reading in German than in other languages, and when I was in school it would take me forever because I felt the need to look up every word I didn't understand and annotate the text as I went.  But in my recent German reading endeavour, I discovered that translator brain make it possible for me to tell which parts are and aren't important, even when I don't understand every word, and to look up only the words I need to understand the story as a whole.

So, knowing full well that I can get full enjoyment and comprehension out of a story without looking up the words I don't understand, why do I feel compelled to do this when I'm reading in English?

To further complicate things, this is something I deliberately didn't do when I was a kid.  Our teachers would always tell us to look up words we don't understand and keep a running list of words we'd looked up, and I never wanted to do that.  I just wanted to keep reading the story.

So what's changed?

My first thought was that it might be translator brain - I live in a world where I have to know what all the English words mean.  But translator brain also caused me to stop using the dictionary when reading in German, so I don't know if it can be the cause of two opposite actions.

Then I wondered if it might be because I've been reading quite a bit of historical non-fiction lately, in which I looked up all the things I didn't know ( also most often the names of objects used in historical times that are no longer used today).  Since non-fiction isn't building a world for me to get lost in, it seems more "normal" to be googling as I go.

But maybe it's just Google brain! In daily life I've become so accustomed to googling every passing thought that I have trouble turning off that impulse when visiting fictional universes.  I guess Hild is just the first book I've read in quite a while that leaves me with so many questions that the googling becomes intrusive.

Which perhaps means I need to be reading more challenging books...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Ford family writing prompt

There's an interesting, non-politics-related, factoid about the family of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

Rob Ford is one of four children of Doug and Diane Ford.

The names of the four children, in birth order, are: Kathy, Randy, Doug, and Rob.

Rob's brother Doug, as I'm sure you've concluded, is named after his father Doug.

But Doug Jr. is the second-born son.  The first-born son is Randy, who isn't named after his father.

This is really interesting to me, because there's a story behind that!  We don't know the story because it obviously isn't applicable to anything that's in the public interest, but there is a story.  Either there was something so important about the name Randy that they had to name a child Randy before even naming a child after the father, or something changed between the birth of Randy and the birth of Doug that made them feel the need to name a child after the father.

I think this would make a good writing prompt. The firstborn son is not named after the father. The second son is. What's the backstory? How does this affect sibling relations?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Books read in October 2014


1. The Queen's Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth's Court by Anna Whitelock
2. The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess in Her Own Words by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
3. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin
4. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
5. A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport


1. Fantasy in Death

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things They Should Invent: tournament-style mayoral debates

In this past election, Toronto had a ridiculous number of mayoral candidates and a ridiculous number of mayoral debates.

But, for the vast majority of debates, only the handful of candidates deemed "mainstream" by the media are invited, with the dozens and dozens of others being completely ignored.

This is a waste of perfectly good scheduled debate time!  What's the point of having such a ridiculous number of debates if you aren't going to host all the candidates?

Therefore, I propose tournament style mayoral debates.  During the first few months, candidates debate each other in a round robin sort of format, so as many people as possible debate as many people as possible.  Then the people who have won the most debates move on to debate the other people who have won the most debates, until the top debates in the city are facing each other towards the end of the election period.

I'm picturing a sort of World Cup format for this, but it wouldn't be exactly the same because debates most often have more than 2 people.  And a true round robin might not be possible, depending on the math.  But, in any case, they should do whatever most convenient mathematically and scheduling-wise to get as many people as possible to debate as many people as possible.

So how do we determine who won a particular debate and gets to move on in the debate-offs?  My first thought is an audience vote - perhaps just in person, perhaps both in person and online.  But I don't know if that could be over-influenced by candidates stacking the audience. 

Another idea is a panel of judges.   But would they assess the candidates objectively, or would they favour the big names?  Although, the existing system already favours the big names, so could it be any worse?

What if audience members are assigned tickets to a debate, but they don't know who's going to be debating at the time they sign up for tickets (which would make it impossible to stack the audience).  But would enough people actually go to debates where they don't know who's debating?

Another alternative would be not to vote on winners of individual debates.  Candidates round-robin, the videos are posted online, and online viewers can vote for which candidates they'd like to see debate some more.  But, again, how could we prevent candidates from stacking the votes?

I haven't fully worked this out.  But the fact remains: if we must have dozens of candidates and dozens of debates, all candidates should get to debate.

Monday, October 27, 2014


A non-descript fall day for a very descript municipal election.

As I've blogged about before, I have a superstition that I need to pet a dog on the way to vote in order to get a good election outcome.  I had a couple of errands to do on my lunch hour, so I tucked my voting card into my purse just in case I met any auspicious doggies.  But, to my surprise, I only even saw one dog, and it wasn't in a place where I could pet it!

Worried by this uncharacteristic shortage of dogs (I usually see 2 or 3 dogs at any time of the day or night), I started planning the route I'd take to the polling station after work, to maximize the chance of encountering a pettable doggie.  The polling station is extremely close to my home - just a couple of buildings down the street, and then through a pedestrian pathway to the other side of the block.  But surely walking down the actual street rather than along the pedestrian pathway is a perfectly reasonable act, right?  Even if it increases the distance I had to walk by 50%?  And when I worked in the office I'd always do my after-work errands before voting, so it's perfectly justified to do that today, right? And so on and so on until I'd justified walking at least three times the distance, possibly meandering through some side streets, in the hope that I'd encounter a pettable dog.

I needn't have worried. Directly en route to the polling station, I saw an adorable little dog who stopped walking and sat down on the sidewalk.  "Awww, you don't want to go any more?" I squeed at him, and full-fledged petting ensued, with the doggie's enthusastic consent and the owner smiling.  So then, my mission accomplished, I walked straight to the polling station, only to discover there was another doggie tied up outside the polling station! When I said "Hi doggie!" he thumped his tail and smiled at me, so I gave him a pet too.

Two perfectly organic dog pets, not contrived at all, would totally have happened if I'd been walking the same route without a superstitious reason to pet dogs.  I hope that bodes well.


One actual election-related note: there are these security folders that we put the ballots in before they feed them into the ballot counting machine.  Problem: the ballot is longer than the folder, so if you voted for one of the bottom few people on the ballot, your vote will be visible despite the security folder!

The strange thing is the ballot is so long in the first place because there are so many mayoral candidates.  The mayoral candidates are divided into two columns, but there isn't an even number in each column - there's way more in the first column!  If they'd made the two columns even, the ballots would have fit in the folder.

Alternatively, if there was some compelling technical reason why they couldn't have adjusted the format of the ballot, why couldn't they get longer folders?


Despite my attempts to find my councillor candidates,  no platforms for any of the challengers ever emerged.  I got like a hundred hits a day on that post - far more than the rest of my blog combined - so I'm certainly not the only one looking for them. Their target audience is ready and waiting, but they still won't show themselves.  And so the question remains: why did they bother? 


Edit, since I always record the campaigning that reaches me:

Signs seen: 1, for the incumbent councillor, plus one bus shelter ad (unfortunately negative) for mayoral candidate Oliva Chow
Robocalls: 2, for mayoral candidate (and eventual victor) John Tory. I disapprove of robocalls
Flyer: 1 in my mailbox for mayoral candidate Doug Ford, 2 under my door for the challenger trustee candidate, 2 under my door for the incumbent councillor, one of which was accmpanied by a knock on the door (which I didn't answer, because I don't answer the door to strangers, which is yet another reason why people should announce themselves as they knock on the door)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All Toronto municipal candidates should publicly post their Vote Compass results

I was pleased to see that there's a Vote Compass for the Toronto mayoral election, but I was disappointed that it only compared your position with that of the three candidates that the media is treating as "mainstream".  There are 65 candidates for the position of mayor alone, to say nothing of all the councillor candidates whose platforms could also be charted on the same compass.

I suspect the Vote Compass people limited themselves to the top three simply for logistical purposes.  They have to analyze platforms, break them down into issues, place them on the scale, validate them with the candidates and the would probably be impossible to do it for 65 candidates, even with our ridiculously protracted municipal elections.

So as an interim measure until someone can design a vote by issue that can accommodate dozens of candidates, I propose that all candidates should take the Vote Compass quiz and post their results publicly. Then voters whose positions on the various issues don't coincide with any of the top three candidates can see which of the many other candidates actually meet their needs.

It would be extra awesome if someone could compile all the candidates' answers in one place.  It's a bit late for this election, but maybe next election the Vote Compass people could do this!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Telling Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla about Robin Williams's death

The question in this week's Ethicist is interesting:

According to press reports, Koko, the gorilla adept at sign language, seemed saddened to hear the news of the death of Robin Williams, whom the gorilla met once in 2001 (and bonded with immediately). I cannot fathom the ethical reasoning behind telling Koko about Williams’s death. What is the point of telling her about the death of someone she met once, 13 years ago? The press reports dwelt on the fact that she appeared sad. I don’t think any of us can know if she was sad or not — but even if this news opens the possibility of making her unhappy, it seems cruel to bring this into her life. What moral purpose does it serve? RITA LONG, OAKLAND, CALIF.

But as I read this, it occurred to me that if it is in fact inethical to tell Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla about Robin Williams's death because it made her sad, by the same logic, it should be inethical to tell anyone anything that will make them sad.

But when Robin Williams died, my first reaction was to tell people, even though I knew it would make them sad.

Why was this my reaction?  Is it in fact ethical?

Let's explore this:

As soon as I first heard of Robin Williams's death, I tweeted it.  That was to address my own emotional needs without the consideration of the needs of others.  I was shocked and needed to get the shock out of my system by sharing it.

But then I went on to share it directly with people whom I knew to be particular fans of Robin Williams.  My thinking was "They love Robin Williams - I must tell them this!" Even though I knew it would make them sad - almost because I knew it would make them sad, although I wasn't telling them because I wanted to make them sad.  I was telling them because I felt their fondness for Robin Williams made it imperative that they know.

Of course, when we're talking about human adults in the 21st century, the fact of the matter is they would have heard anyway from media.  Koko the Gorilla wouldn't have heard anyway.  But the fact that they were going to hear anyway wasn't a factor in my decision to directly share this information with the people whom I knew it would make the most sad.

Let's think about it from the perspective of the person receiving the news.  I have no particular emotional attachment to Robin Williams, but what if, dog forbid, it was Eddie Izzard (who, for those of you who are just tuning in, is my hero)?  I would be gutted and heartbroken and genuinely in mourning. And I would very much want to know.  If Eddie Izzard died and I was never informed, I'd start missing him anyway.  After some time had passed, I'd notice that I hadn't heard anything from him lately.  No new tours, no new projects, no new tweets.  Then I'd start worrying whether everything was okay, and the worrying would persist and the lack of definitive answers would be upsetting.  I'd much rather know.

This worry triggered by long-term lack of communication and creative output would apply to the Robin Williams fans in my lives, but somehow I doubt Koko the Gorilla would notice his lack of creative output.

So how I feel about being told of the death of someone I've met before and liked, but I'm not expecting future contact or creative output from?

 This has happened twice in recent memory.  One was my boss from my old job, who suddenly and unexpectedly died about 10 years after I'd left the job. The other was the grandson of my childhood next-door neighbours, whom I'd met when he was a toddler, and died when he was a teenager.

In both these cases, the news made me sad.  With my old boss, the sadness was exacerbated by the fact that I found out too late to send my condolences (which is inapplicable for Robin Williams fans and for Koko the Gorilla).  With my neighbours' grandson, the sadness was exacerbated by how young he was and the fact that he'd never gotten to enjoy adult life (which, again, is inapplicable for Robin Williams and for Koko the Gorilla).

If I hadn't found out about these deaths, I would never have noticed the absence of these people.  Even if I'd somehow been back in touch with my old job for professional purposes and my old boss wasn't around, I'd assume he'd moved on to something else.  And I'd completely forgotten about my interaction with next door's grandson until I heard about his death.

But, despite the fact that I felt sadness at learning of their deaths and wouldn't have felt anything if I remained ignorant of their deaths, I still feel like being informed of them was better than not being informed of them. I haven't been able to fully analyze this feeling in the course of writing this blog post, but I feel like people have the right to know when people they know die.

Therefore, I don't think informing Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla of Robin Williams's death was inethical. I think it was treating her with basic human respect.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Help me find the words to describe my idiocy

I tweeted this story when it happened, so it might be familiar to some of you.  Disclaimer: I do recognize the flaws in my thinking in this story and have learned from them. The purpose of this post is to figure out the words to describe the flaws in my thinking.

I was walking down the street, and I saw an Orthodox Jewish teen carrying a piece of plant matter, which looked very much like the palm leaves used on Palm Sunday in the Catholic church.

So I wondered, "What do they use palm leaves for in Orthodox Judaism?"

I walked on some more, and realized that line of thinking is racist.  Just because I believe I can identify this young man's religion based on his dress and grooming doesn't mean the object he's carrying has religious significance!  If I saw someone whose religion I didn't believe I could identify carrying a similar piece of plant matter, I'd think it's for a hobby or a science project.  It wouldn't occur to me that its significance would be religious unless it was actually Palm Sunday.

So I chastised myself for such racist thinking, and went home.

When I got home, I googled out of curiosity Orthodox Judaism palm leaves I discovered Sukkot, a Jewish holiday that involves palm leaves.  And Sukkot was actually in progress on the day that this happened!

Then I thought to myself, "So I wasn't actually racist!"

But, of course, my logic that the leaf must necessarily have religious significance because it was being carried by someone whose religion I could recognize was just as racist as ever. It just happened to land on a correct conclusion this one time.

So here's what I'm trying to figure out:

1. What logical fallacy did I commit by assuming the leaf had religious significance?
2. What logical fallacy did I commit by concluding that I wasn't actually racist just because my assumption ended up being correct this one time?
3. What word should I be using in this blog post instead of "racist"? "Anti-Semitic" doesn't seem correct, because there were nothing "anti" about it, and I'm not sure if "that person is Jewish, therefore I think they are in the process of practising Judaism" can quite be considered anti-Semitism. So what is the word for this particular flavour of idiocy?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What if we could quantify luck?

Wouldn't it be interesting if we could objectively measure and quantify luck, and you could know exactly how much good or bad luck was involved in a particular experience, and how much you've experienced over your life?

We can to a certain extent, of course, by looking at things like our demographics and circumstances of birth.  But that's far less interesting than if we could quantify day-to-day luck, as compared with other people in similar circumstances!

For example, I've blogged before about how much good luck was involved in my career path.  But others have insisted that this wasn't good luck, it's because I went to school and got good grades and worked hard.  (I feel like it's good luck because of the number of jobs I haven't gotten, and the number of people who did exactly what I did but didn't get jobs.)

It would be so interesting if we could objectively quantify how much luck played into this. We could get data like it was 80% luck and 20% virtue that got me my job, or that I was 130% luckier than the typical person in that particular instance but I'm only 80% as lucky as the typical person when averaged out over my lifetime, or that I got 47 Luck Points for that incident out of a total of 247 Luck Points accumulated over my lifetime.

If we could quantify luck, we could know who is the luckiest person in the world and the least lucky person in the world! Someone could actually prove mathematically that their new spouse did make them the luckiest person in the world when they agreed to get married!

We'd also know when people are having bad luck vs. bringing misfortune upon themselves through their own irresponsible behaviour.  There are some people in the world who think they're just woefully unlucky when in fact it's at least somewhat their fault, and there are people who don't recognize that others are in fact unlucky and think they just need to pull their socks up.  This would give people some objective perspectives in both directions.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Toronto Ward 22 Councillor candidates Sarfraz Khan, Bob Murphy and James O'Shaughnessy

Attention Sarfraz Khan, Bob Murphy, and James O'Shaughnessy:

I am a Ward 22 voter, and I don't feel I can vote for the position of councillor unless I know about more than one candidate's platform.

I haven't been able to find any of your platforms. They aren't listed on the City of Toronto Elections website, googleable, or findable on social media.

So please post your platform somewhere online, and inform the City of Toronto Elections people of its location so they can add it to their website.  If you create a twitter profile with a link to your platform, and put #topoli and #Ward 22 in the description, your electorate will find you. (Also, if you post it in the comments here, it will become googleable within a couple of days.)

By doing so, you'll be giving the people of Ward 22 an alternative to simply voting for the loudest person by default.

Friday, October 03, 2014

My municipal election voting dilemma

There are currently 4 candidates for city councillor in my ward: the incumbent and 3 challengers.

The incumbent has the expected online presence. But I can't find any trace of any of the 3 challengers.  I've googled with multiple combinations of keywords, I've searched social media, I've looked up possible matches on LinkedIn (multiple possibilities for each name, none of whom say they are running for city councillor).  Even the City of Toronto elections website that lists all the candidates for each ward doesn't have any contact information for them - not even an office phone number, just their name and ward number. None of the organizations and media outlets that send questionnaires to each candidate have gotten responses from any of the challengers (if they were in fact able to get in touch with the challengers).  None of the organizations that endorse candidates have endorsed in my ward.  I not only find no evidence of any of the challengers running a campaign, I find no evidence that anyone else has been able to get in touch with the challengers in their capacity as candidates.

If this situation persists, I'm left with a dilemma: should I vote for the incumbent, or for no one?

The incumbent's record is decent enough that I don't see a reason to try to unseat him, but it's quite plausible that there could be another candidate who aligns more closely with my views.  (There was in the last election.)  It's also quite plausible that none of the other candidates would align as closely with my views.  It all depends on what the other candidates' platforms are.

I don't think that simply showing up should be enough to win my vote.  Earlier in the race, the incumbent was the only council candidate for the ward.  I googled around the question of whether we'd still vote for councillor if there's only one candidate (wasn't able to find out conclusively), and decided during this process that I wouldn't vote for a candidate running unopposed.  I'd be okay with them winning, of course, but I wouldn't give them a vote just for being the only one there.

So, on one hand, I feel like I similarly shouldn't give a candidate my vote just for being the only one visible. But, on the other hand, they've clearly run the best campaign.  But, on the other other hand, what if they're not actually the best candidate?  But, on the other other other hand, how would I ever know?

Things They Should Study: why do people get themselves put on the ballot but not run a campaign?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Books read in September 2014


1. Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb
2. North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea by Andrei Lankov
3. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden


1. Promises in Death
2. Kindred in Death
3. Missing in Death

Friday, September 26, 2014

Would it really be a bad thing if income tax disincentivized people from working more?

A piece of conventional wisdom I've been hearing ever since I was a child that higher marginal income tax rates for higher tax brackets are a problem because people would be disincentivized to work more and earn more money.

I question that notion because of the way tax brackets work (the higher tax rate is applied to the next dollar earned, not to the income as a whole, so your net salary never decreases when your gross salary increases) but today in the shower it occurred to me: if it was in fact a disincentive to working more, would that actually be a problem?

Suppose you're working a 40-hour workweek, but you feel like you'd earn enough working 30 hours and the extra 10 just aren't worth your while.  So you scale back to 30.

You know what that's called? Work-life balance!  Good for you!

But what if everyone did it?

If everyone scaled back their 40-hour work week to 30 hours because it just wasn't worth it to them to work any longer, then only 75% as much work would get done.  If there was demand for more work to be done, employers would have to hire more people.

Know what that's called? Job creation! Good for you!

I strongly doubt that higher income tax rates in higher tax brackets would have this kind of impact to any significant extent, because most people live a lifestyle that is commensurate with their income and aren't in a position to just go "Meh, I have enough, there's no point in earning any more."

But if they did, I don't think it would be a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why was Rob Ford able to kill Transit City unilaterally?

On his first day as mayor, Rob Ford came into work early and killed Transit City.

With all the other things that happened since then, I've forgotten how this happened and why it was possible.  I was under the impression that it needed to be voted on by Council, and googling around the idea I see lots of people saying that he shouldn't have been able to do it unilaterally and it should have been voted on by Council.

But he did it and, at the very least, set transit back a year until Council was able to reinstate it a year later.  Why was he able to do that?  Why did it take Council a year fix it?

I feel like I should understand this before I vote for the next mayor. Will the next mayor be able to do similar things unilaterally?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Typing is slow in Gmail

For the last couple of weeks, when I try to type a reply in Gmail, typing is really slow.  The letters are appearing at about half the speed at which I type, and every once in a while there's a "hiccup" so some of the letter I type don't appear.  I haven't changed anything about my browser (Firefox), and I've been using Gmail in this browser forever.

Googling around the idea, I see different people having the same problem with different browsers, which suggests it might be Gmail.

A workaround is to click on the "In new window" icon, which is a little arrow at the top right, next to the printer icon, above the "reply"  icon and the date".  Amateurish screenshot:

Nevertheless, this is less convenient, so I hope Gmail fixes this slow typing problem so we can once again reply on the same page.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rimmel Lash Accelerator Endless

My favourite mascara is Rimmel Lash Accelerator.  I needed a new tube recently, and when I looked in the store I was surprised to discover that, in addition to regular Rimmel Lash Accelerator, there was also a new mascara called Rimmel Lash Accelerator Endless.  Based on the information on the packaging, I couldn't tell the difference between the two. However, the Endless was on sale at a significant discount, so I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately, it's not as good as the regular Rimmel Lash Accelerator.  It's about on par with that pink and green Maybelline mascara - perfectly serviceable, but not exceptional. 

If Rimmel Lash Accelerator works well for you and the pink and green Maybelline doesn't, I recommend sticking with the regular Rimmel Lash Accelerator and not going for the Endless.  (Although I have no idea if this approach would work in the reverse.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Things They Should Study: does street harassment by construction workers correlate with their working conditions?

From a blog post by Scott Adams that's otherwise irrelevant to what I'm writing about here:
For starters, I don't know any men who make creepy sexual remarks about women in public. Clearly such men exist. But if we are being objective, those men generally exist in the lower rungs of society's power ladder. It isn't the corporate lawyer doing the wolf whistles. It is usually the under-educated laborer who doesn't have an indoor job, or any job. The female victims in this scenario are, more often than not, among the more attractive humans on earth. Those are the ones that are (usually) attracting the most attention. And in our world, attractiveness is power.

In modern society, power comes from three sources: education, money, and attractiveness. People who have all three are at the top of the power pyramid. People who have any two of the three are next, and the people who have only one are the next level down. The unfortunate people who have no money, attractiveness, or education are at the bottom. So when a construction worker hassles an attractive woman on the street, it is often a case of a less powerful person bothering a more powerful person. You lose that nuance when you represent the situation as a men-versus-women problem. The reality is that the bad behavior is (mostly) limited to a small group of relatively powerless men. I would guess that less than 1% of men would be in that obnoxious category.

I don't know if I agree with his premise or not, but that's not relevant because this is simply a research idea.

I know enough people who have been street harassed by construction workers to know that this is a common thing.

But it has never happened to me and I have never actually seen it happen.  Construction workers most often disregard me, and, weirdly, when they do interact with me, they treat me like a lady. 

One thing I've noticed as I've watched my condo being built is that it's an extremely complex project - more complex than I thought was possible before I started observing a construction project up close.  There are a lot of task dependencies, there are a lot of safety measures, there are a lot of things that need to be done that don't directly produce the building.

For example, there's a guy who builds things out of wood.  He's there, every day, building stuff out of wood (safety railings, frames for pouring concrete, other things I can't recognize).  But the condo isn't made of wood.  All the things he builds are temporary and are taken apart eventually. 

There are these rubber safety caps on those pointy metal bars that sometimes go through concrete. Someone has to put those on, and take them off again when they're about to cover the ends of the pointy metal bars with more concrete.  And someone has to figure out how many safety caps they'll need and order them.

They repair the sidewalk in front of the construction site whenever they damage it (and they're awesomely diligent about snow clearance in the winter too!). They move the portapotty around the site depending on where they're working. They have trucks with cement and trucks with supplies and a crane and a concrete pump. When they're pouring concrete, they have to time their work around how much cement is in the cement trucks they have on-site and which parts of the site are still drying and the weather (the internet tells me the crane operator has to come down right away if there's a risk of lightning) and local noise by-laws and I'm sure other factors I'm completely unaware of.  And all of this has to happen in a very small, restricted area with existing highrise buildings directly next to the edge of the property.

In short, it's a far more complex and difficult than I would have expected - and, perhaps, far more complex and difficult than working on a smaller building, or a building in a less built-up area, or just putting on a roof or something rather than making a whole building.  I wonder if perhaps this means it requires more training, or is better compensated, or otherwise is seen as more prestigious?

The vast majority of the construction workers I encounter are either in my own neighbourhood working on similar highrise projects that are infilling the existing highrise neighbourhood, or are commuting on the subway. And if they're commuting on the subway, that means they're probably working near the subway, which means that their projects are either high-density projects similar to those in my neighbourhood, or they're working for homeowners or businesses who are wealthy enough to own low-density property on expensive transit-accessible land.  Which might also be well-compensated and/or more prestigious.

So if my theory about high-density projects being more difficult/well-compensated/prestigious is correct, and if Scott Adams's theory about street harassment being perpetrated by people who are lacking money/prestige/power is correct, the lack of street harassment from construction workers in my corner of the world would be explained by the fact that the construction being done in my area is more difficult and expensive.

That's a lot of ifs and a lot of theories, but nevertheless it would be an interesting thing to study.  Even if my theory is completely wrong, it may turn up some other interesting patterns.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The mystery of RN #61683 CA #23638

I recently tried a different style of Jockey underwear (updated my comparison post accordingly), and when I looked at the tag to see the style number I saw it said "CA #23638".  That number seemed familiar, so I checked my other underwear (in the other style) and it had the same number.  Okay, I figured it must be the other number on the tag that designates the style.  RN #61683 But when I looked at the other underwear, it also had the number.  These are the only numbers on the tags, and they're exactly the same on two different styles of panties made in three different countries!

So I went a-googling, and discovered people listing RN #61683 CA #23638 as the style number for all manner of Jockey products, from boxer briefs to t-shirts!

So what do these numbers mean?  Why bother printing them on the label if they apparently mean the same thing as "Jockey"?  And why isn't there a style number?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Levelling up my Twitter achievements

Eric Idle retweeted me! Screenshot:

The original link can be found here, but it's not as obvious from a direct link to the tweet itself that Eric Idle retweeted it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books read in August 2014


1. Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle
2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)
3. The Unquiet (short story anthology) by Robb, Blaney, Gaffney, Ryan and McComas
4. The Corpse with the Golden Nose by Cathy Ace
5. Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb


1. Strangers in Death
2. Salvation in Death
3. Ritual in Death

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The pros and cons of having a system

The other day, I had a day where I felt like I got nothing done.  I kept falling down the internet rabbit hole and getting caught up in gaming and dawdling and procrastinating, and shit just didn't get done.  (Yes, I realize the irony of blogging this not long after a post about how I get shit done.)

As it happened, as part of the internet rabbit hole I fell into, I read no more zero days.  And I realized that, despite feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done, it wasn't a zero day.  I'd done a bit of yoga, showered and done my scheduled beauty routine, read two newspapers, flipped my mattress, taken care of a couple of minor errands, and prepared myself a hot dinner that happened to be reasonably healthy (and ate an assortment of other food that  didn't require preparation, much of which also happened to be reasonably healthy).  Oh, and I worked a full eight-hour workday where I exceeded my quota and promptly responded to all my emails.  Definitely not a zero day!

So why did it feel like I got nothing done?

At the root of all this is my last period of unemployment. I woke up one morning realizing I was teetering on the brink of depression.  My job search thus far had been disheartening, I didn't know how long this period of unemployment would last for, I didn't have the fact of being in school to fall back upon as I had in other periods of unemployment, and I knew that I could very easily fall into despair or inadvertently become fully nocturnal or waste days and days playing computer games without achieving anything.

So I made a system.  I had to spend certain amounts of time each day on certain tasks, or do certain tasks until they got done and/or I accomplished a certain amount.  Many of the tasks were related to my job search, but others were things like exercising, cooking, reading newspapers, reading books, blogging - things that are objectively productive and that I either want to do or I like the idea of being a person who does. (e.g. I don't actually like exercising, but when I tried to think of all the things that an ideal person does, it was on the list.)   Then, once I finished every daily task in my system, I was fully entitled to veg out and game and internet and indulge in all the other sloth I'm naturally inclined towards.

But, in a plot twist that led me to stop and check that this is in fact real life, as I was lying in bed that morning inventing my system, I was interrupted by a phone call offering me my current job!  But I went with the system anyway, adapting it to employment rather than job search, and I've been using it (with some tweaks) ever since.

But, because the system was originally designed for unemployment, it's rather ambitious for a workday. I don't always finish everything, and if I get dawdley I only finish a small fraction.

So the advantage of having a system is that I don't have zero days.  I just mindlessly work  through the system.

But the disadvantage of having a system is that sometimes perfectly adequate days feel like a zero day, because I haven't completed the whole system.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weird Al

From a New Yorker profile of Weird Al:
With his parodic versions of hit songs, this somehow ageless fifty-four-year-old has become popular not because he is immensely clever—though he can be—but because he embodies how many people feel when confronted with pop music: slightly too old and slightly too square. That feeling never goes away, and neither has Al, who has sold more than twelve million albums since 1979.
Anxiety starts early for pop audiences. For decades, I have had twenty-somethings tell me that they don’t know what’s on the charts, haven’t listened to any new artists since college, and don’t “know anything about music.” They feel confused by how quickly the value of their knowledge of what’s current fades. Weird Al’s songwriting process, almost without exception, is to confront that anxiety and to celebrate it. Yankovic will take a mysterious and masterful song and turn it into something mundane and universal. He makes the grand aspirational concerns of teen-agers in Lorde’s “Royals” into a story that includes a lesson about the hygienic advantage of taking food home in aluminum foil. (You’ll see the rhyme there.) Charli XCX’s boast of being “classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch,” in Azalea’s “Fancy,” becomes an ad for a handyman who can resurface your patio in Yankovic’s “Handy.”
The opening lyrics of “Smells Like Nirvana,” Yankovic’s 1992 version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” are as close to a mission statement as he has: “What is this song all about? Can’t figure any lyrics out. How do the words to it go? I wish you’d tell me, I don’t know.” Weird Al has been cool for so long because pop makes everybody feel uncool; that he is the only one to admit it has made him a pop star.
If I'd seen this theory written about anyone or anything else I'd assume it's bullshit, but that's actually an accurate description of how my Weird Al fandom began, with Smell Like Nirvana.

I was 10 years old when Smells Like Teen Spirit was released and 11 years old when Smells Like Nirvana was released.  I was attending a middle school at the time (Grades 6-8) so I was surrounded by people who were into teen pop culture, but I wasn't quite ready for it myself.  I had absorbed the message from the adults around me that being into teen pop culture was Bad, it was giving in to Peer Pressure, and I wanted to prove to them that I'm Better Than That.

But, at the same time, it was problematic on a social-survival level to be completely unfamiliar with teen pop culture.  You couldn't just walk around having never heard of stuff.

Weird Al provided the perfect solution.  With Smells Like Nirvana, I could be familiar with Nirvana and enjoy how the music rocks without claiming to be a fan.  In fact, I was mocking it - surely something that could be used to demonstrate I'm Better Than That when necessary! But, at the same time, enjoying parody certainly suggests enough familiarity with the original, so I didn't come across as never having heard of stuff. Weird Al allowed me to save face without having to commit to anything (in the bizarre preteen landscape where such things demanded commitment.)

In the years that followed, I would grow into pop culture, and then into the ability to take it or leave it as I pleased, without regard for the opinions of peers and grownups.  But in those few awkward years when I was still muddling through and wasn't quite ready for the pop culture environment inhabited by my peers, Weird Al helped ease the transition for my awkward preteen self.  And, because of that, he will always have a place in my adult self's ipod.