Monday, June 30, 2014

Books read in June 2014


1. The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley
2. Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson
3. Life Below Stairs: Domestic Servants in England from Victorian Times by Frank Edward Huggett
4. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
5. New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb


1. Innocent in Death

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open letter to "No Acronym Here" in this week's Savage Love

From this week's Savage Love:

My husband and I have been happy swingers for four years. Our issue? I'm pregnant. My husband had a vasectomy two years ago, and neither of us has wavered in our desire to remain childfree. We know the "father" is the male of a couple we play with regularly. We used protection, of course, but we know these things are never foolproof. We consider ourselves good friends with this couple, but we are not in any sort of "poly" relationship with them. Our question is this: Do we need to tell the couple about what happened and our decision to terminate the pregnancy? We wouldn't ask them to help pay for the procedure, and their feelings on the matter wouldn't change our course of action. We're just unsure about the "swinger etiquette" in this situation.
The part of Dan Savage's answer that discusses how this man might feel or react:
On the off chance that your play buddy is one of those guys who either is against abortion or hasn't given the issue much thought—because he's never needed one—you should let him know that your freedom to choose has directly benefited him and his family. You should also let him know that there's a small chance your husband impregnated you. Either way, you're terminating this pregnancy.
But there's another possibility Dan Savage didn't mention: what if LW's play buddy is one of those guys who is against abortion because he wouldn't want a child he fathered to be aborted?  If this is the case, he might get very angry at you, and, if you tell him before the abortion happens, he might try to stop you. (And, from a political point of view, he'd cite this as a perfect example of why abortion should be criminalized.)

Unless you know him (or his feelings towards reproduction) well enough to be certain he wouldn't react this way, you and your husband should make a plan that includes what you would do if your play buddy reacts this way.  It is a thing that exists in the world, and you could be in for a bad time if you announce the abortion as good news when he'd take it as bad.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How the library can improve its automatic return system

I should be happy about my library's automatic return system, since it's yet another example of one of my inventions materializing in real life, but I'm seeing some problems that can make it very inconvenient from time to time.  Here's how I'd improve it:

1. Let it accept more than one item at once. The self checkout and scan multiple items at once (my personal record is six large hardcover books), but the return slot can only handle one at a time.  This is irritating when the person in front of you is returning a lot of things at once.  The other day I was behind a lady with two small children who were returning a total of 20 items.  This is a reasonable number of children's picture books to check out for two children over a 3-week loan period, but it takes for-fricking-ever to scan them all in one at a time. A massive line formed behind this family, and there was nothing that could be done to expedite the process.

2. Continue to have a manual return slot. I've seen manual return slots at other libraries that have automatic returns, but mine doesn't have one.  So if there's a line for the automatic return or the automatic return is malfunctioning, there doesn't appear to be any alternative.  (I recently learned that you can also hand the book to the person at the circulation desk, but there's no signage or anything to that effect. And if the automatic return is malfunctioning, the circulation desk person is probably in the back room trying to fix it.)  If we could just pop books into a manual slot, we wouldn't be getting stressed and frustrated when the automatic return malfunctions or the person in front of us has 20 items.  (Or maybe they wouldn't even be in front of us because they'd just pop their 20 items into the  manual slot and be out of there in 30 seconds.)  I think most people would continue to use the automatic returns because they verify that your item has in fact been checked in - plus, they're fun! - but simply making them optional would vastly reduce frustration.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My farmer's market dilemma

There is a farmer's market in my neighbourhood.  I'm glad there is, because it's only a very recent development.  For most of the time I've lived here, we haven't had a farmer's market.

However, most of the booths aren't really farmers.  They're selling baguettes or macrons or local organic vegan lunch.  I prefer the few booths that are farmers - I want to be able to buy fresh produce from someone who can have an informed conversation about the quality of the produce and the realities of growing it.

The problem: the quality of produce available from the actual farmers at the farmer's market isn't as good as the quality of produce available from small neighbourhood stores like Summer's Best, or sometimes even the quality of produce available from the local Metro supermarket.

The asparagus at the market is wimpy and skinny, whereas Summer's Best and its peers have nice fat asparagus. The varieties of apples at the market are non-yummy, whereas the greengrocers and the supermarkets at least have McIntosh.  And the farmer's market is never cheaper, and is often more expensive.

I'm torn.  I want to support the farmer's market so there will continue to be a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  I want to support the farmers selling fresh produce so farmers will continue to sell fresh produce at a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  But I also want the better produce.  I want to buy the better produce in order to create demand for the better produce and incentivize produce sellers to sell the stuff that I like right in my neighbourhood. Plus, of course, I want to eat the yummiest possible food.

I do get that the farmer's market might need some time and TLC to take off, and I want to give it the opportunity it needs.  But where's the threshold?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Post-election round-up

- Signs I saw in my own riding: 1 Liberal and 1 Conservative.  I also saw a few Kathleen Wynne signs in her riding (which is adjacent to mine).
- Robocalls received: 1 from my Liberal candidate and 2 from my Conservative candidate. I consider robocalls a bad thing.
- Flyers I received in my mail: 1, very well-targeted, from my Liberal candidate. I consider this an appropriate way for political parties to advertise.
- TV commercials I saw: entirely too many, all negative in tone, nearly all Conservative. I consider political TV commercials a bad thing.
 - Test of the Hill Knowlton predictor: when we input the actual vote percentages, it produces Lib: 55, Con: 32: NDP: 19. 
- Test of the Too Close To Call predictor: when we input the actual vote percentages, it produces Lib: 56, Con: 30, NDP: 21. 
- The actual results: Lib: 59, Con: 27, NDP: 21
- Lesson for the parties to take away from this election: Shifting left of your usual position gets you more seats; shifting right of your usual position gets you fewer seats.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


An uncomfortably hot day - normal summer temperatures, but early enough in the summer that I'm not used to them yet -  but a quick and easy vote.  I actually got my voter card in the mail (a first for an Ontario election, even though I've already voted six times provincially (including 2 by-elections) over the course of 15 years, and three of those times were at this address.  There was no line, the polling station people were friendly and cheerful, and everything went as smoothly as humanly possible.

Except that dogs are avoiding me today.

As I've blogged about in previous elections, good election outcomes correlate with me petting a doggie on my way to vote.  So I took the most roundabout route justifiable to my polling station, with the goal of petting a doggie along the way.

Unfortunately, the dogs just weren't buying it!

I greeted every opportune dog with "Hi puppy!" and a face full of love and enthusiasm, which usually gets them to try to jump up on me.  But none of them seemed interested.  I commented "Oh, what a cute/gorgeous dog!" to promising-looking dog owners, but got a lower response rate than usual, and, even when the human responded, the dog was uninterested and didn't engage with me at all.

I don't get why dogs aren't interested in me today! Do I smell?  Do I not smell? Can they tell I have an ulterior motive?

Ultimately, I gave three dogs a single tap on the back (while admiring them in a socially-appropriate manner, with their humans encouraging the interaction), but they didn't consent to more.  I hope that's enough to count as petting a dog for election outcome purposes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Saving for retirement ≠ pension

I recently took the 2014 Ontario Vote Compass test.  I found it was useful for identifying areas where parties' platforms weren't what I expected or their positions relative to each other weren't what I expected.  But one of the questions baffled me.  It asked if I agree or disagree with the statement:

"Ontario should require workers to save more for retirement."

At the end of the Vote Compass test, you can click on a link to see the rationale for the compass allocating each party's position to each issue.  And when I clicked through for this one, it became apparent that the issue they were talking about was the creation of an Ontario pension plan.  By "require workers to save more for requirement", they meant "create a provincial pension plan.

This is gravely misleading!  While saving money for retirement is certainly an important part of a pension plan, the two concepts are certainly not interchangeable.  The big deal about a pension plan is not that you divert money from your income to save for retirement, but that the plan turns this money into a steady source of income for your old age.  

Saving money is simple. Turning your savings into a pension is complex.

Saving money is arithmetic - actually, it's just addition and subtraction (and maybe even just addition depending on how you do the math), with no multiplication or division necessary.  Turning your savings into a pension is...I don't even know what kind of math it is, and I got an A in every math class on my high school's curriculum.

You can tell immediately if you're succeeding at saving money - the balance of your savings account goes up and doesn't go down. You can't tell if you're successfully creating a pension for yourself until it's too late.

Saving money is a diligent personal behaviour.  Turning savings into a pension is an entire profession, requiring its own training and expertise.

To reduce a pension plan to "you should save more money" is like reducing having perfect teeth to "you should brush your teeth."  Yes, the diligent personal behaviour is necessary, but you also need the professional expertise to achieve your goal.

The enormous benefit of having a pension plan instead of doing it yourself is that your pension is managed by expert professionals who are hired by expert professionals, and whose primary mandate is to make the pension plan succeed.  If you hire a financial planner as an individual, you're stuck with just your own non-expert knowledge to determine whether they're competent or a charlatan, and it's quite likely that their primary mandate is to sell specific financial products or have a high number of transactions or pull in new customers, depending on their compensation model.  Finding a skilled and competent financial planner who will work in your own best interests is not necessarily a simple matter for those of us who aren't financial experts ourselves, and we can't necessarily tell if our planner is in fact doing their job properly before it's too late.

With a pension plan, you also have economies of scale, and can mitigate risk by diversifying more than an individual can and by distributing risk over a longer period of time than an individual's personal retirement savings.

I think the Vote Compass test may have landed on this phrasing because one of the parties has nothing in their platform about creating a new or expanding an existing defined-benefit pension plan, and instead uses the phrasing "Give Ontarians the opportunity to save more for their retirement..." by promoting PRPPs. But this does not negate the fact that the other parties' platforms talk about actual defined-benefit pensions, where a given input will guarantee a given output.  This is far more than simply requiring people to engage in diligent behaviour, and the CBC and the Vote Compass people do us a disservice by representing it the way they did.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Voters' Resources (Ontario 2014 edition)

Getting Started

Election Day is June 12!

First, go to the Elections Ontario website website and to find out your electoral district, your candidates, and where to vote.

Here is the ID you need to vote.

On Election Day, your employer is legally required to ensure that you have three  consecutive hours during polling hours during which you are not schedule to work. This means that if your voting hours are 9 am - 9 pm and you work 11 am - 7 pm, you employer is required to allow to you either come in at noon or leave at 6 pm.  However, if you work 9 am - 6 pm, there are still three free polling hours after the end of your workday.


The platforms:

Liberal (there is a more comprehensive PDF under each section, but I can't find the whole thing listed on one page)
NDP (apparently you can download the whole thing as a single document if you fill out a form providing your email address)

There's also the CBC Vote Compass, which asks you about your positions on various issues and shows you which parties' positions are closest to yours. I found it particularly useful for showing me where parties' relative positions were not what I expected - and therefore where I need to focus my reading and research.

Strategy and Predictions

My "How to Vote"
My "Where to Vote
My "How to Vote Strategically"

Riding-by-riding predictions:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill + Knowlton Election Predictor. (You need poll data for this. You can input your own that you find in the media or on the internet, and Hill + Knowlton regularly tweets predictor results based on recent polls.)
- ThreeHundredEight (scroll down or use your browser's search function to find riding projections)
- Too Close To Call, (scroll down or use your browser's search function to find riding projections) which also has a riding by riding simulator into which you can input poll data and see how various ridings come out.  (I found I had to disable Ad Block for the simulator to work properly.)
- Election Atlas

Election Almanac lists quite a lot of poll data and seat projections from different sources. I have no way to tell if it includes every poll, but there are quite a few.

These predictors all use different methods so what's interesting and informative is to see the extent to which they agree or disagree about the outcome in your riding.


This post was last updated on June 7, and will be updated throughout the election campaign, right up until voting day.  If there's anything you think belongs in here but hasn't be posted yet, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Things They Should Invent: list added sugar separately in nutritional information

There has been a lot of news coverage lately about the health risks of added sugar, but the general consensus seems to be that naturally-occurring sugars (like in fruit) don't present the same health risks.

Unfortunately, the nutritional information boxes on food packaging don't distinguish between these.  For example, the organic unsweetened applesauce in my fridge contains 12g of sugar per serving.  The supermarket ice cream in my freezer contains 13g of sugar per serving.  But I suspect the ice cream has far more of the added sugars we're supposed to avoid!

It's pretty glaringly obvious if you're comparing ice cream to applesauce, but what if it were a fruit smoothie?  Some of that sugar is going to be the naturally-occurring sugar contained in the fruit, and some of it is going to be the added sugar that we're supposed to avoid.

If they want people to take this seriously, they should list the added sugars separately from the naturally-occurring sugars in the nutritional information.