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.