Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books read in July 2014


1. Love and Forgetting: A husband and wife's journey through dementia by Julie Macfie Sobol & Ken Sobol
2. The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen's Childhood by Marion Crawford (the Queen's former governess!)
3. Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin and Nicholas Ivor Martin
4. Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain by Lucy Lethbridge


1. Eternity in Death
2. Creation in Death

Monday, July 28, 2014

Journalism Wanted: why don't doctors who don't want to prescribe contraception join another field of medicine?

There was recently a story in the news where a walk-in clinic doctor wouldn't prescribe birth control because he had moral objections to it.

All this coverage would have benefited from an interview with the doctor in question, or others like him, shedding light on their internal reasoning for choosing this medical specialty.

As we've discussed before, approximately one third of all Canadians use prescription contraception.  That means that any given doctor working in family practice or a clinic can expect one third of all their patients to come in at least once a year asking for contraception.

If you're morally opposed to providing contraception, why would you pursue a line of work where one third of your clientele is going to ask for something you're morally opposed to?

There are many fields of medicine where contraception is not going to come up at all. Gerontology, podiatry, oncology, pediatrics, palliative care, otolaryngology, gastroenterology, cardiology, pulmonology, hematology, and I'm sure many other kinds of medicine whose existence I've never thought about.  Contraception is only going to come up in general practice, walk-in clinics, and gynecology/urology, with occasional appearances in emergency medicine, dermatology, and possibly endocrinology.

Why doesn't this doctor and other like him choose one of the many other fields of medicine, or work in a children's hospital or a long-term care home or somewhere similar where they simply won't be called upon to provide contraception?

I also wonder if medical schools and colleges of physicians and whatever other organizations might be involved take any measures to discourage future doctors from studying to practise in fields in which they're morally opposed to very common and medically-accepted treatments.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Things I'm sure they've invented a word for, but I can't think what it is

I'm looking for a word or phrase to express the concept of going straight to boldly/almost-but-not-quite aggressively asserting your rights when asking nicely would have the same effect.

Example: rather than emailing your landlord with "My toilet's been dripping lately, could you have a look at it?", you go straight to citing chapter and verse of the Residential Tenancies Act about the need to maintain a state of good repair and emphasizing the importance of a functioning toilet to basic quality of life.

Part of the notion this word or phrase encompasses is not giving your interlocutor the opportunity to say "Yes, of course!" and demonstrate goodwill and reasonableness. 

The best I can come up with is "unnecessary assertiveness", but I don't want to use the word "assertiveness" because it isn't a bad thing, and in the thing I'm trying to write I'm trying to differentiate this phenomenon from regular, appropriate assertiveness.

Any ideas?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jockey underwear seems to fit differently depending on where it was made

I recently bought two packages of Jockey Elance French Cut panties, which is the closest I've been able to find to my late lamented old version of the Victoria's Secret cotton panties.

I threw them all in the wash before I wore them, then yesterday I took a pair out of the dryer, put them on, and was surprised to notice that the fit was different from the ones I already owned, so I originally planned for today's blog post to be about how Jockey had changed the fit of these panties and the pros and cons of this change.

Then, this morning, I took another of the new pairs out of the dryer, and was shocked to discover that it fit like the ones I already owned! 

I looked more carefully at the label, and I discovered that one was made in Costa Rica and one was made in Honduras.  Here are the differences, at least as they apply to my body:

- Made in Honduras is roomier than Made in Costa Rica
- Made in Costa Rica has tighter elastics than Made in Honduras
-  As a result, Made in Honduras seems to be less prone to panty lines than Made in Costa Rica.
- And, despite the less-tight elastics, Made in Honduras seems to stay in place better.  Neither version is a wedgie machine, but the combination of the fuller coverage and the different elastics seems to leave all the elastics right where I put them without any drift whatsoever.
- However, the roominess of Made in Honduras includes a higher rise, which makes it look frumpier if you're standing around in just your underwear. It kind of emphasizes that your stomach isn't perfectly flat and makes your bum look a bit saggy, similar to how high-waisted short shorts look particularly frumpy on some people compared to shorts with unremarkable waistlines and hemlines.
- The fabric of Made in Honduras is stretchier.
- However, the fabric of Made in Honduras also appears to my amateur eye to be flimsier.  I wouldn't be surprised if Made in Honduras develops holes long before Made in Costa Rica.

Overall, I prefer Made in Honduras as a functional and comfortable garment under clothes, and Made in Costa Rica when I care about what I look like when I'm sitting around in my underwear.

My next mission is to see if I can find Jockey Elance hiphuggers or bikini panties that were made in Honduras.  When I tried on these styles originally I found them unflatteringly low (I didn't notice where they were made when I tried them on), but if they were in fact the Costa Rica version and there's also a Honduras version floating around out there that's similarly roomier, a Honduras version of the hiphuggers or bikini might be just what I was looking for!

Update:  I have also found some Made in Bangladesh hiphuggers.  The rise is good and the shape is more flattering - what I expected the Made in Honduras hiphuggers might be - but the elastic is a bit tighter (not as tight as Made in Costa Rica though) so it's not free of panty lines.  Currently, the Made in Bangladesh hiphuggers are the best ones I have overall, but I'm glad I have the Made in Honduras French cut for days when I need a smoother look. I'm even more convinced now that Made in Honduras hiphuggers would be the holy grail.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things They Should Invent: follow-up online reviews, with automatic reminder emails

Just over a year ago, I bought a paper shredder. (Brand name Rosewill, from Newegg.)  Just days after the one-year warranty expired, the shredder's motor died, in a rather terrifying puff of smoke and sparks.

When I was buying the shredder, there were online reviews from people who had problems, with follow-up comments from the manufacturer saying to contact them and they'd replace it under warranty, and there were reviews from people saying "I don't know what you're talking about, I didn't have problems."

But I wonder how many people had problems after the warranty period expired, but never thought to write a review because who goes back to the site you bought it from a year later to write a review?

Online review sites, including retailers, should fix this by standardizing the idea of follow-up reviews.  You write a review after you get the product, and then after a certain period of time you get an automatic email asking you to write a follow-up review.

The period of time for a follow-up review would depend on the product.  A week or two would be plenty for something like nail polish, but maybe six weeks would be good for moisturizers and stuff that are supposed to produce longer-term results.  I think 110% of the warranty period would be very informative for electronics.

This would be far more useful than one-time reviews of newly-purchased products, and would significantly increase traffic to the websites.  (At a minimum, you'll double the number of visits by people writing reviews, so you can show them recommended products etc.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Do police normally photograph the genitals of child pornography victims?

There was recently a story in the news about a 17-year-old boy who sent sexually explicit photos to his 15-year-old girlfriend, and as a result faces child pornography charges.  And, in order to prosecute these charges, police wanted to photograph this young man's erect penis.

The question of the appropriateness of the charges and police action have already received extensive coverage, but there's actually a bigger, more serious issue here:  do they routinely take photographs of the genitals of actual child pornography victims, i.e. minors who were forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into appearing in pornography?

In other words, if a grown adult had taken a picture of this teenager's penis for prurient purposes, would the police still be trying to take a picture of his penis for evidence purposes?

According to the article, the only things this kid is charged with are possession and manufacturing of child pornography (i.e. pictures of his own penis).  And it says that the police want to take pictures of his penis "for comparison to the evidence from the teen’s cell phone", which suggests that they intend to prove that the pictures on the teen's cell phone are child pornography by proving that they are in fact pictures of the teen's penis, as determined by official comparison with the official pictures of the teen's penis taken by the police.

It's certainly not implausible that there may have been, or may be in the future, a situation of actual child pornography (i.e. where a minor was forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into being photographed or filmed for prurient purposes) where the minor victim's face is not shown.  In cases like this, do the police also take nude photos of the minor victim for the purpose of official comparison with the pornography they've seized as evidence, in order to prove that the materials they've seized as evidence is in fact child pornography?

If so, this is a much larger problem that needs to be solved!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

How to illustrate articles about dying bees

Lately, there have been quite a few articles in the media saying that bees are dying out because of pesticide use, with the general thesis that this is a bad thing.

Problem: some articles are illustrated with giant zoomed-in pictures of bees, far larger than life, where you can see all the yucky details like hairs and antennae.

And, given my phobias, my immediate visceral reaction is "AAAAH!!!! KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!"

Which isn't quite the reaction the article is going for!

I do understand how ecosystems work so I know on an intellectual level why bees dying is a bad thing.  But the visceral phobia-based reaction is faster and louder, so the "KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!" comes to mind before I even notice what the article is about.  And then, if I can bear to look at the headline, it's telling me about how this thing is being killed.

I know my reaction is not within the range of normal, but the fact remains that, in the culture of these articles' target audience, bugs are culturally considered yucky.  If I see a bug and I say "Eww, gross!" more people would think that's a "normal" reaction than if I see a bug and I say "Aww, isn't it cute!"  Bigger bugs are considered yuckier, and the details like legs and hairs and antennae are seen as grotesque. Fear of bugs is one of the most common specific phobias, many people are afraid of bees because they sting, and it's culturally considered normal and a valid choice to kill bugs because they're yucky (c.f. the existence of flyswatters and Raid).

In short, even among non-phobic readers, these enormous, grotesque pictures of the bees are far more likely to inspire revulsion than sympathy, which is contrary to the intention of the article.

A far better strategy would be to illustrate these articles with pictures of honey looking delicious and flowers looking beautiful - which is, in fact, the end result that you want people thinking about. If it is in fact necessary to portray bees, they should under no circumstances be zoomed in on so they appear larger than life! Features like legs and hair and antennae should be de-emphasized, and the image positions and camera angles should be such that people don't even for a second think there's an actual bee on their paper or screen. In appropriate contexts, perhaps cartoons of anthropomorphic bees could be used - more of a friendly food brand mascot and less of a creature that escaped from the gates of hell.

Zoomed-in pictures of bees are not going to change anyone's opinion from "meh" to "Save the bees!" People who think bees are fascinating up close already want to save the bees, people who are indifferent will react with indifference, and people who are grossed out will, even if only briefly, react with "Kill it!"  But pictures of honey and flowers might turn a "meh" into "Wait, I like honey and flowers, this is important!"  And, in any case, they're far less likely to inspire "Kill it!"

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Dementia brings back the monsters under the bed?

I've been reading Love and Forgetting: A husband and wife's journey through dementia by Julie Macfie Sobol & Ken Sobol, which tell the story of Ken Sobol's dementia (Lewy Body Disease) both in the first person and from his wife's (Julie's) perspective.

The following passage is a first-person description of the hallucinations he'd have.  As usual, any typos are my own:
Moving day was October 1, 2007. When I got up the first night at the new place to use the washroom, I was startled to find that the stacks of boxes, floor lamps and other scattered leftover from the move were providing material for new kinds of bizarre shapes. The forms were back again the next night. In fact, it got to so that virtually every evening I would find waiting for me outside the bedroom door a troupe of odd, inexplicable creatures doing their best to shake my grip on reality.

These were not like the alarming nighttime apparitions I'd seen in the hospital after the TURP procedure. the new ones came in two basic guises: animals of various sorts - mostly small, skittering creatures - and tall, thin types. Sometimes they ignored me. Sometimes, but only if I turned toward them and started, they became animated. Then, for example, the low rectangular radiator in the hallway might suddenly convert itself into a small sheep; a cluster of scarves on the coat hook might become a high fashion hat; an Inuit print could spring to live as a circle of wolves following me with their eyes. (A litho resembling such a wolf scene hangs on the wall of our home office.) Some of the more feminine figures, if that is the proper designation for them, carried what appeared to be small creatures in their arms.

At first, I freaked. No surprise there.But then I noticed that whenever I approached them, they would immediately rise and move off in a slow motion down the hallway, or simply disintegrate on the spot, before reforming into normal lamps, jackets and whatever other objects in the darkness had led me to imagine their existence.

On the nights that followed, some of the forms even entered our bedroom and then at times, I had to waken Julie to make sure they went away. (Not that she eve saw them, of course, but her voice was reassuring to me and commanding to the apparitions.) Ultimately, it seemed clear to me they meant no harm nor presented any real danger. All the same, when I later came across a reference book that called them "benign visions," I was relieved.

I rarely got a glimpse of the hall dwellers' faces; I wasn't even sure they had any. They never spoke, and except for one accidental instance, they always managed to fade away before I made physical contact. The incident where I touched one took place as I came out of the bathroom one evening and tripped on something (a shoe, I think,), losing my balance. As I thrust out my arm toward the wall to catch myself, so did a vaguely alpaca-like creature. We met and touched at a corner - Julie's terrycloth bathrobe and my shaggy Irish wool sweater hanging on the coat rack. The creature and I both sprang back in alarm. When I looked again it had disappeared, fading into the woodwork.

I didn't know what to make of this tactile experience; I still don't. But as time passed, I grew so accustomed to the apparitions that I began looking forward, albeit in a slightly uneasy way, to seeing what form they would take each night.

Then there were those other apparitions, the ones that could come at any time and that manifested themselves not as things I see, but as things watching me. They lurked just outside the corner of my eye; if I glanced their way, they also would run away, as if they didn't like being seen. (Of course, maybe they were just getting old and cranky, like the rest of us when we reach a certain age.) A few times I found myself addressing one of them, momentarily forgetting that I was asking for an opinion from a pile of clothing or perhaps quarreling with something as vague as a wisp or memory.
What struck me about this passage is the extent to which his apparitions resembled the monsters that haunted me when I was a very small child.

My monsters very rarely moved around, instead preferring to stand around menacingly.  I was never brave enough to engage with them so I don't know what would have happened. But his description of how everyday objects would turn into apparitions really reminds me of my childhood monsters.

In the past few years, with my grandmothers declining and various people around me having babies, I've been thinking that old age in some ways resembles a reversion to early childhood.  But it never occurred to me that that could apply to cognitive processes as well.