Thursday, April 30, 2015

Books read in April 2015

1. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by "Leslie Knope"
2. This is Improbable by Marc Abrahams
3. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
4. Festive in Death by J.D. Robb
5. Elegy for Iris by John Bayley
6. A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes
7. Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emotions are weird

When I was a little girl, my grandmother took us to see Sharon, Lois & Bram whenever they were in town. Eventually, we outgrew their concerts, as one does, and we never went again.

Last year, they named a playground in my neighbourhood after Sharon, Lois & Bram, and the trio showed up at the dedication and sang a few songs.

When I heard that Lois died, one of the first feelings to come to me was "OMG, that time I saw them at the park was the last time I'd ever see them perform live in my whole entire life!!!"

Except of course it was.

I'm a grown adult who's childfree by choice.  There's no reason to think I'd ever go to a Sharon, Lois & Bram concert again.

I didn't regret not having gone to more when I was an older kid. I had outgrown them and, in addition to not enjoying them as intended, would have felt awkward and out of place.  I only went to the one in the park last summer because it was in a park - I could just walk by on a public sidewalk, stop and listen if I felt moved to do so, and casually drift away if I got bored or felt out of place.

And, just to make things weirder, if I hadn't had the opportunity to see them in the park last summer, I would never have felt "OMG the last time I saw them was the last time ever!" I wouldn't even have had a specific memory of the last time I saw them, just like how I don't have a specific memory of the last time I watched Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers (both of which I do occasionally watch as an adult).

But for some reason, because I had the opportunity to wander age-appropriately into this little mini-concert last year, I felt this pang of...whatever the hell you'd call the emotion of "OMG that was the last time ever!", which I never would have felt otherwise.

Emotions are weird.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The first camper

I was recently thinking about the notion of the first tourist, i.e. the first person in human history to travel for recreational purposes.

It further occurred to me that someone in human history must have been the first person to go camping recreationally.

People did, of course, live in the woods and in crude shelters for much of early human history, and then for much more of human history used tents etc. when travelling or on military campaigns or as temporary shelters for various reasons, probably including in the course of travelling from Point A to Point B.

But someone was the first person to come up with the idea of travelling away from their home and whatever degree of shelter and civilization was baseline for them to a wilder, less developed place with less civilization, and spending some time there in a temporary shelter that provides less shelter and fewer amenities than usual, all for solely recreational purposes.

In the modern world, people who are into camping think spending time in nature is in some respect better than spending time in civilization.  Some simply think it's pretty and relaxing, others go so far as to consider it very nearly virtuous. Someone in human history must also have been the first person to have this attitude! For so much of human history, people were just trying to survive - and, in fact, built up whatever level of civilization they had at the time for the purpose of surviving - that it would never occur to them that less civilization and more nature would be better.  I'm sure if you put a prehistoric person in a modern-day shelter, they'd be so thrilled that temperature and wind and precipitation and darkness are rendered completely irrelevant and that they are absolutely certainly not going to get eaten by a wild animal that it wouldn't even occur to them to bemoan the fact that you can see things other than trees or that not all the stars are visible.

And then, someone was the first person to have the luxury of thinking that less shelter may have been better than more shelter.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Legally-mandated helicopter parenting vs. children's literature

When I was a kid, I always felt vaguely humiliated that my life didn't work like the lives of the protagonists of my books.  They got to have their own independent adventures.  They got to go to the park or walk in the woods or go to a friend's house or be home alone, all without adult supervision.  Sometimes they even bought things at stores or went to the library or went to the doctor without an adult.  And I wasn't allowed to do anything!  What was wrong with me?  Why wasn't I worthy of this basic human independence that all my protagonists got to enjoy??

Reading a recent article where "free range" children got picked up by the police, I find myself wondering how 21st-century kids feel about this.

I was feeling humiliated because my parents wouldn't allow me the freedom of the protagonists in my books, but today it's even worse - it's not just that your parents say no, it's that the police will come and arrest you!  (Yes, the police didn't technically arrest the kids, but I'm sure it feels to the kids like they did.)

But then it occurred to me that maybe this very serious sense of "You can't go to the park alone or the police will come and arrest you" might actually make it feel less bad for the kids.  It's not that you aren't allowed because you aren't good enough, it's that no one is allowed because it's against the law.  But, on the other hand, that might just cause confusion.  Peter and Jane did it, so why can't I?  If it's against the law, why didn't the policeman arrest Peter and Jane when he was talking to them?

Another possibility that I hadn't considered is that children's books may have caught up with reality.  Perhaps the protagonists of today's children's books are supervised at all times?  That would certainly make it more difficult to come up with a workable story, but so do cellphones and they appear in fiction.  (Or maybe that's why so many of my early children's books were populated by anthropomorphic animals living in the quaint, non-specific past?)

This all made me realize that children's books are in fact the original media that influences impressionable children!  People always talk about TV and movies and video games, but far, far more of my idea of How The World Is or Should Be were formed by the books I read at a very young age.  I think I was far more influenced by the idea that I should be able to ride a zebra because that's what a character in a book was doing than by anything I saw on TV.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ontario has destreamed Grade 9 at least once before

An article on the front page of today's Toronto Star says that an advocacy group is calling for an end to streaming in Ontario high schools, by which they mean having "academic" and "applied" versions of each class.  This surprised me, because neither the article nor the report (PDF) makes any mention of the fact that Ontario has destreamed Grade 9 (as this advocacy group is recommending) at least once before. 

I know, I was there.

My Grade 9 classes were all destreamed when I started high school in 1994.  It was a fairly new development at the time.  Mine might have even been the very first destreamed year - in any case, it was definitely being talked about like it was new and unprecedented when I was in middle school.

Surely there's data on student outcomes from this time.  There are probably even teachers around who taught in Ontario high schools before, during and after the early-90s destreaming.  It seems like this would all be highly relevant in lobbying and making decisions about whether Ontario schools should be streamed.

I want to make it very clear that I am not arguing or hinting for or against streaming. I have no strong feelings about my own destreamed experience, and I readily acknowledge that, as a student who thrives in any academic environment regardless of whether or not it challenges me, my own experience is irrelevant to any goals they might be trying to achieve with either streaming or destreaming.

I'm simply saying that Ontario-specific data and experience exists.  It would be remiss of them not to use it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The first tourist

In the shower this morning, it occurred to me that some one person in human history must have been the very first tourist, by which I mean the first person to travel recreationally.

For all of human history, people have travelled to find food or to flee problems where they were living before or to trade or to warmonger or to find new unused or conquerable land or for a quest or for a religious pilgrimage.

But recreational travel wouldn't have been a thing for much of human history, because travel was difficult and too many people were too preoccupied to survive. Plus, because no one had ever done it before, it probably wouldn't have occurred to many people to do it.

And then, someone, somewhere, came up with the idea of "Hey, let's go over there for no particular purpose, just to look around!  It will be fun!"  No one in the history of the world had ever gone somewhere for no particular purpose before!  But this person did, and somehow the idea caught on.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

In which Google messes up and gives me a scare

I recently decided to try a face cream containing retinol.  Shortly after I applied it, I felt a funny taste in my mouth.

So I googled retinol taste in mouth.

Near the top of the results was the wikipedia entry for strychnine poisoning!

It turns out that this result came up because Google perceives "retinol" as a synonym for "Vitamin A".  The strychnine poisoning article has a "Poisonings, toxicities, and overdoses" category box at the bottom, which includes a link to Vitamin A.  And one of the symptoms of strychnine poisoning is a taste in the mouth.

So I didn't die, and the next time I tried the retinol cream there was no taste in my mouth, so it must have been unrelated.

I haven't noticed any difference in my skin using retinol though.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Mammogram after ultrasound

When I got the phone call telling me I needed a mammogram, part of the reason why I was so freaked out was that my research about breast ultrasounds had suggested that ultrasounds are superior to mammograms and are sometimes ordered as follow-ups to mammograms (as opposed to stand-alone tests like I had), so I couldn't fathom why a mammogram would be ordered after an ultrasound. I googled around the idea of mammogram after ultrasound, and couldn't find anything informative - mostly just people saying that it seemed backwards and ultrasound normally comes after mammograms.

I know I've already posted at length about my breast lump diagnosis process and this post basically repeats that information, but with more focus on why the mammogram was applicable after I'd already received the breast ultrasound, and what we learned from the mammogram that we didn't learn from the ultrasound, with the target audience being people who are googling for patient experiences with a mammogram after a breast ultrasound.

Patient profile: 34-year-old female, never been pregnant, no family history or risk factors of breast cancer

Diagnostic process: While conducting a routine breast exam during my annual physical, my doctor noticed an assymetricality in the armpit area of my breasts. He ordered an ultrasound, which found the lymph nodes were enlarged on one side. The mammogram was then ordered to get a better look at the lymph nodes.

My doctor's explanation for the mammogram:  My doctor said that the mammogram can get a better look at the architecture of the lymph nodes than an ultrasound.

The content of the mammogram report: The mammogram report said that there were no malignancies, and also said that my breasts are fibrocystic.  The ultrasound report did comment on either of those things.  The logical conclusion would be that the ultrasound couldn't determine either of those things, but I don't have the medical knowledge to make a definitive declarative statement to this effect.

Diagnosis: enlarged lymph nodes on one side but not the other. I believe this is due to a recent vaccination. I've been instructed to get an ultrasound again in 6 months to make sure they're back to normal.  (I hope the don't follow that ultrasound with another mammogram!)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Improving upon the parking space management company idea

I previously came up with the idea of a parking space management company, for people who own parking spaces for their condos but don't actually use them.

This morning the shower gave me a much simpler solution: the condo corporation should fulfill this function as a service to residents.

If you own a parking space that you don't need, you sell it to the condo corporation, which buys it at assessed value.
If you want a parking space, you can buy one from the condo corporation at assessed value (if there are any available). 
If you're selling a condo and your buyer doesn't want to buy the parking space, you can sell it to the condo corporation at assessed value.
If you're buying a condo and it doesn't come with a parking space, you can buy one from the condo corporation at assessed value (if there are any available).

The condo corporation can rent out any unused parking spaces at a profit, with the revenues going into general coffers.  When I ran the numbers on my own condo, I determined that renting out a parking space at the going rate in my neighbourhood would pay for itself in 20 years, which would provide an influx of revenue just as the building comes up for major repairs.  Until then, it should be revenue-neutral.

Residents would, of course, be free to sell or rent out their own parking spaces, but if they don't want to do the work themselves, the condo corporation would provide the service.

At this point, you may be thinking "Wouldn't it be simpler for the condo to just own all the parking spaces and rent them out to residents?"  I agree, but, based on the complaints I've read when googling about condos that do this, many car + condo people don't like this approach.  Having the condo corporation manage parking spaces if there is demand for such a service would maximize options for everyone.