Saturday, October 31, 2015

Books read in October 2015


1. Letters to the Midwife: Correspondence with Jennifer Worth, the Author of Call the Midwife
2. Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt
3. The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny 


1. Seduction in Death 
2. Reunion in Death 
3. To Kill a Mockingbird 
4. Purity in Death

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Post-election round-up

Campaigning that reached me:

- 1 flyer from each candidate in my mailbox or under my door
- Multiple phone calls from each candidate. The NDP candidate left a message (which I think is a strategic error - many people find voicemails annoying) but the others didn't. I do appreciate the fact that all candidates phone lines that display their names on call display so I could screen accordingly.
- A man in a red t-shirt knocked on my apartment door at once point. I don't know if he was a Liberal canvasser or just a strange man who happened to be wearing a red shirt, because I don't open my door to strangers.
- I saw only one sign in my riding, for the Liberal incumbent, but it was taken down when the house was sold.  I also saw one sign each for the Liberal and NDP candidates in windows of an apartment building in an adjacent riding.  (Yes, even with riding distribution, my neighbourhood is still irritatingly fragmented among multiple ridings.)
- My candidates were really irritating on Twitter.  They kept sniping at each other and subtweeting. I felt like a kid trapped in the back seat of a car while family members argued.

Traditional post-election simulator tests:

Using the percentages available on the Elections Canada site, the simulators produce the following results:

Too Close to Call

Liberal: 138
Conservative: 120
NDP: 71
BQ: 8
Green: 1


Liberal: 131
Conservative: 126
NDP: 78
BQ: 2
Green: 1

(Also, was the Hill+Knowlton simulator really annoying for anyone else this year? It kept jumping around on the page every time I moved a slider.)

Actual results:

Liberal: 184
Conservative: 99
NDP: 44
BQ: 10
Green: 1

As with the last federal election, the prediction and simulation models don't seem able to properly process surges.

Thoughts on the results:

I'm still pondering this surprisingly large shift from NDP to Liberals.  Did a whole bunch of people feel moved to vote for the Liberals or against the NDP?  Was it because the Liberals were campaigning left and the NDP was campaigning right, as happened in the last Ontario election? (Although it seemed to me that this shift wasn't nearly as strong as in the last Ontario election.)  None of these phenomena seemed pronounced enough to cause such a drastic shift.  Or were so many people strategically voting against the Conservatives incorrectly (i.e. by using national polls rather than looking at the situation in their riding) that it actually ended up being correct?

If it's the latter, I certainly hope the new government's statement about this being the last "first past the post" election proves to be correct, because adding the factor of other people who might strategically vote incorrectly to your strategic voting strategy is just too complicated! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Voters' Resources (Canada 2015 edition)

This post is post-dated. If the date and time indicated for this post have not yet passed, there may be new material below it.

Getting Started

Election Day is October 19!

First, go to the Elections Canada website and type in your postal code to find out if you're registered to vote, your riding, your candidates, and where to vote.

If you have not received your voter information card, you can still vote on election day, you just need to take ID. Note that ID requirements have changed since last election. However, you do not necessarily need photo ID.

Your employer has to give you enough time off to ensure that you have three consecutive hours off during polling hours.


The web design trends of 2015 make it difficult to provide a single link directly to parties' platforms (although they're reasonably easy to navigate to visually), so this time I'm providing links to the parties' official websites.

Bloc Quebecois
Conservative Party
Green Party
Liberal Party
New Democratic Party

To help you figure out which party is best for you:

CBC Vote Compass
Political Compass: compare your results on the test with the Canadian political parties chart
I Side With
Maclean's Policy Face-Off

Not all these tools use the same issues or interpret the platforms or relative positions of the parties exactly the same way. It's useful to take all of them and see where they differ, see where they surprise you, and use that information to focus your research.

Strategy and Predictions

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

Riding-by-riding predictions to help you with strategy:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Quarterback (previously called Election Predictor). You need to input poll data into this tool. Poll data is widely available in the media, and in some of the other tools linked here.
- ThreeHundredEight
- Too Close To Call
- Toronto Star election forecaster. For individual riding projections, scroll down to "Riding Projections", then select your province from the Y axis of the chart.

Other interesting sources

- Pundits' Guide
- Election Almanac

This post will be updated through to Election Day as I find more information. Do you know of anything else that should be included here? Are any of the links dead? Let me know in the comments!


I dressed in my usual black and purple election day outfit, but then decided to violate my "no party colours" rule by wearing my late grandmother's birthstone ring.  She was a huge fan of voting (and of dogs), so I thought it would be appropriate to bring her with me.

As in previous years, I planned the longest justifiable route, with some errands along the way, to maximize my opportunity to pet dogs.  (For those of you just tuning in, the more dogs I pet on the way to vote, the better the election outcome.)

But zero dog-petting opportunities presented themselves!  The dogs kept being led away from the sidewalk onto the grass, or across the street from me, or otherwise on trajectories that I couldn't reasonably intercept.  The only interceptable dog I encountered was in the middle of pooing! 

I began to wonder if I'd thrown off equilibrium with the ring, so I went home (perfectly justifiable! I was carrying groceries and there was a line-up outside my polling station!), put the groceries in the fridge, and took off the ring. I'm still not sure if that was the right decision. Then I proceeded to the polling station by a perfectly reasonable route that happens to have high dog potential.

It did have high dog potential, but, again, none of them were interceptable. I saw like 20 dogs in 2 short blocks, and I couldn't reasonably pet any of them. In desperation, I passed a shade too close to a large dog that was part of a family with a crying baby, trailing my fingers a shade lower than natural in the hopes of getting a quick pet in even though they clearly didn't want to stop because they wanted to get home and take care of their baby.  But I misestimated our respective heights and missed.

The line to enter the polling station reached outside, which I've never seen before.  I had a voter's card, so once I was inside I was directed straight to my poll.  There was no one else waiting for that poll, so I was in and out in two minutes.  However, there was a very long line-up for people who didn't have voter's cards.

This means lots of new people are voting.  I hope that's enough to outweight the back lock of zero dog pettings.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What if minimalism is a retail conspiracy?

There's a lot of "minimalism" lifestyle that suggests you should keep only the things you use most often and get rid of the rest.  Lately it's been trendy to call this clothing approach a "capsule wardrobe", and I've heard of similar approaches to kitchens, toiletries, and general household goods.

But I find myself wondering if it's all a conspiracy to get people to ultimately buy more stuff.

If you get rid of something because you haven't used it in years, then you'll need to buy a new one the next time you need something like that.  For example, I keep an dark winter coat that I haven't worn in a decade, just in case I'm ever in a situation where my standard red coat wouldn't be appropriate. I keep warm winter boots that I haven't worn since the 20th century just in case I ever need warm winter boots. If I didn't keep these things and then had to go to a funeral in the winter, or had to walk outdoors in the cold for far longer than usual, I'd have no choice but to go on a frantic shopping trip and buy a new dark coat or warm boots.

You'd have to buy even more stuff if you went minimalist on things you use all the time. For example, when I originally discovered Victoria's Secret cotton panties, I stopped wearing all my other panties because they were nowhere near as perfect.  But I kept them in my underwear drawer.  Then, when Victoria's Secret changed the design, making them uncomfortable and useless, I still had other underwear that fit me and was at least marginally acceptable.  If I hadn't had any other underwear, I would have had to go through a costly, irritating, and time-consuming trial and error process. It isn't always readily apparent that underwear is unsuitable without wearing it for a day, and because I need clean underwear every day I'd have to buy multiples of each potential new underwear rather owning zero clean, hole-free pairs of underwear.  And, because you can't return underwear, I'd just end up spending a whole lot of money on a bunch of useless, uncomfortable underwear, and possibly not even end up with anything better than what I owned before I switched to VS.

I'm sure retailers would love if everyone had to shop like this, but I'd find it irritating.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition VII

11. If Driver A honks at Driver B in a situation where moving would cause Driver B to crash into something or someone, Driver A (and their vehicle and their property) instantly sustain the cumulative total of whatever damage would have been sustained by Driver B and innocent bystanders (and any other vehicles or property) if Driver B had moved in the way Driver A wished.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Things They Should Study: how does the gig economy affect productivity?

In economics, they often talk about productivity, most often bemoaning the fact that it isn't high enough.

I wonder if anyone has studied the effect of the gig economy on productivity? Because it seems like it would have a strong negative impact.

For example, a freelance translator has to not only translate, but also handle marketing, advertising, billing, online presence, inquiries from prospective clients, and all the administrative aspects of running a business of which I'm unaware. In comparison, a staff translator spends nearly all their time translating, and their employer's administrative staff deal with most of the rest of that stuff.  So it's easier for the staff translator to be more productive.

I'd imagine the same would hold in most occupations.  And, on top of that, the shorter the gig is, the less productive it is.  If industry standard is six-month contracts and then they transition to three-month contracts, workers have to spend time looking for work (rather than doing work) twice as often, and employers have to spend time hiring twice as often.  More and more person-hours are being spent on the non-productive tasks associated with connecting people with work rather than simply spending the time on work.

I wonder if anyone has yet studied this enough to quantify it?

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Vote Strategically

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

Some people vote for the party whose platform they find most suitable (the Best Party). If that's what you're trying to do, this post isn't for you. Go vote for the Best Party.

Other people try to prevent the party whose platform they find most harmful (the Worst Party) from being elected, by voting for the party that's most likely to defeat the Worst Party (the Compromise Party). This is called strategic voting.

The most important thing about strategic voting is that your strategy has to apply to the reality in your riding. The media feeds us national polls for breakfast every day, but they're not directly relevant. Regardless of what the rest of the country is doing, your vote will only be used to elect the MP for your own riding. If your riding is already disinclined to elect the Worst Party, there's no point in a strategic vote - you'd just end up making the Compromise Party look more popular than they really are.

So here's what to do if your priority is stopping the Worst Party from winning:

1. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's going to win in this particular riding?"

If the answer is a party other than the Worst Party, vote for the Best Party. If the answer is "the Worst Party" or "it's too close to tell," go on to step 2.

2. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's most likely to defeat the Worst Party in this particular riding?"

This is your Compromise Party. Read their platform. If it's acceptable, vote for the Compromise Party. If it's not acceptable, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: ignore the national polls; think only about the situation in your riding!

So now you're thinking:

"But how do I figure out what's going to happen in my riding?"

There are a number of resources to help you do this. Check them all out and see what they say about your riding.

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Quarterback (previously called Election Predictor). You need to input poll data into this tool. Poll data is widely available in the media, and in some of the other tools linked here.
- ThreeHundredEight
- How did your neighbourhood vote? (If you're voting strategically, you still have to look at the whole riding rather than the individual polls, but this is still interesting)
- Too Close To Call
- Toronto Star election forecaster. For individual riding projections, scroll down to "Riding Projections", then select your province from the Y axis of the chart.

Prediction sites update constantly, and I will be updating this list as I find more prediction sites, so check back again closer to election day.  Know of any sites I missed? Share a link in the comments!

Friday, October 09, 2015


I recently saw a video of my 1-year-old baby cousin running up and down a small grassy hill in her local park.

It's quite evident from this video that going up and down a hill is an acquired skill.  She's very clearly working on mastering the balance and motor skills involved, and still learning the effects of gravity and momentum.  Sometimes she stops and seems overwhelmed. Sometimes she has to put her hands down, or sit down and scoot on her bum for a bit. Sometimes she has to stop and move perpendicular to the slope of the hill.  Sometimes momentum overtakes her and she falls flat on her poor little face, giggling all the while.

Watching this, I remembered that sometimes when I was a kid, walking up or, especially, down a big hill seemed far more dramatic than it does now. It felt somehow risky, as though there was a good chance that I might fall. But seeing the situation through the eyes of my baby cousin, I now realize I felt that way because my hill-climbing skills weren't as developed as they are now.

This gave me an interesting idea: what if, at some place and time in human history when people moved around far less than they do now, there was someone who had never climbed a hill?  Perhaps they grew up in the kind of place where you can watch your dog run away for three days, and simply never had cause to stray far from home.  Surely this must have happened to someone, somewhere, within the full range of human experience.

And what if someone who had never climbed a hill then had to travel far away from home and encountered a hill for the first time when they were well into adulthood?  They'd be all "OMG, what's that?  That's unnatural! The gods must be angry!"

And then when they tried to climb the hill, they'd probably get it wrong for the first few times.  Their brain wouldn't know how to bend their legs and shift the balance of their bodies, at least not perfectly.  They'd probably fall down.  It might even look impossible to them, like walking straight up a vertical cliff face looks impossible to us.  They might be standing at the top of what looks to us like a perfectly innocuous hill, getting a wave of vertigo if they look down, going "Are you sure this is safe?"

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Compromises from this week's Ethicist

When I read this week's Ethicist, I kept coming up with ideas for compromises.

My husband’s sister died recently, after a short, unhappy life. In her will, she asked that her ashes be scattered in the ocean near a place she lived during one of the brief happy times of her adult life. Instead, my mother-in-law interred the ashes in a family plot near her home, saying that she needed a focal point for her grief. I realize that life is for the living, and none of us believe that my sister-in-law is watching the proceedings from on high. But I nevertheless feel viscerally appalled by this cavalier contravention of her last wishes. Am I right to be upset? Do we have ethical obligations to the dead? NAME WITHHELD
I wonder if a reasonable compromise if a survivor wants to keep ashes but the deceased wanted them scattered would be for the survivor to keep them for the time being and to provide in their will for the disposition of the ashes in accordance with the deceased's wishes.  Interring them wouldn't be appropriate, but what if the mother kept them in an urn on the mantelpiece for the rest of her life, and then stated in her own will that they were to be scattered in the ocean per her daugther's wishes?

I am a librarian at a large public university. Our library administrators, following a current fad, plan to radically ‘‘downsize’’ the library collection (i.e. throw out a lot of books). Essentially, anything in the general collection that hasn’t been checked out in the past few years is going straight to the trash-hauling bin. I believe that this poorly planned weeding project will do serious damage to a very valuable public resource and that if local researchers knew the scope of devastation underway, they would have strong objections. I have been outspoken enough about my opinion to be in hot water with said administrators. Do I have an ethical responsibility to persist in whistle-blowing? How much personal trouble am I ethically obliged to cause for myself in order to oppose an administrative decision that I believe is not just damaging to our organizational mission but stupid and wrong? NAME WITHHELD
What if, before throwing out the books, they attempted to give them away?  Inform the university community and any other networks of local researchers, and let them salvage whatever they want before it goes straight to the dumpster.  That's not to say that doing this would completely mitigate any detrimental impact, but, from a purely pragmatic perspective, LW's employers may well be more receptive to "Here's a zero-cost way to improve the optics of our plan while better fulfilling our mandate!" than they would be to "No, your plan is bad and wrong! Don't do it!"

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Where to Vote

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

Some people (such as university students renting housing in the community where they go to school or have a summer job who also still have their parents' house as their "permanent address") are in a situation where they could legitimately vote in one of two possible ridings.  This post is intended to help them decide where to vote.

Note that voter ID requirements have changed since the last federal election. Current ID requirements can be found here.)

Where to Vote:

1. If one of the ridings is a really close race, vote in that riding. If both are close, vote in the riding with the closest race. If neither is really close, follow the instructions below.

2. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision for the province (hereafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision for the province (hereafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

3. Based on your own needs and your own vision for the province, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

4. If it's more important to you that the Best Party win, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

5. If it's more important to you that the Worst Party not win, and the Worst Party has a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party in the riding where the Worst Party is most likely to win.

6. If the Worst Party doesn't have a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

Tools to help you figure out which party is most likely to win in your ridings can be found in the How to Vote Strategically post.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Things They Should Invent: user manuals for new homes

For most of the first-time homeowners I know, their first major expense was the result of being unaware of a kind of preventive maintenance that was required.

Solution: whenever a builder builds a new home, they should provide a manual listing all the preventive maintenance that's necessary, how often it needs to be done, and how, exactly, to do it.

 At this point, people usually point me at the Tarion checklists, but they're close to useless if you're a newbie.  For example, the first item in the fall checklist is "check exterior finishes".  What exactly is an exterior finish?  How do you check it? Do you just look at it, or is some kind of testing procedure required?  What exactly are you testing it for?  And if you find a problem, how do you go about fixing it?  (Also, what's the timeline like to fix it?  Do you have to fix it right away or can you wait a day/week/month?)  And is this even something that applies to my condo, or is just it for house people?

I want detail, in writing and with useful illustrations.  As an example, simplified from reality (and therefore possibly not perfectly accurate):
HVAC filter

There's a filter on your HVAC system that needs to be changed once a year to keep your HVAC system running smoothly.

1. The HVAC filter can be found inside this access panel. [illustration]
2. Open the panel by pulling on the left side, as shown. [illustration]
3. The filter is below the access panel. If you look down, you can see the top edge of the filter. Remove it by pulling it upwards, as shown. [illustration]
4. If the filter is visibly dirty, replace it. Replacement filters can be purchased from [source] under part number [number].
5. Insert the new filter by sliding it back down into the bottom of the access panel, in the direction shown [illustration].
Builders should provide instructions at this level of simplicity and clarity for every single kind of maintenance for which homeowners are responsible.  This would significantly reduce the expense and inconvenience of unnecessary emergency repairs, thereby making homeowners feel better about their builder.

Since many of the elements in the maintenance manual will be identical for every home built, and since builders tend to construct homes en masse (either with highrise condos or new subdivisions), the cost per home would be negligible and could easily be passed on to buyers without them even noticing. And since builders likely reuse elements in different projects (for example, my builder has multiple highrise projects in progress as we speak, each with multiple hundreds of units, so I doubt they're going to use a completely different HVAC in each) they could spread out the cost even further.

At this point, some people are probably thinking "But once you get used to being a homeowner, you don't need a manual. You know how things work! That's a lot of effort for something that's just needed by beginners!" 
But think about how many things do come with manuals. Microwaves and phones and TVs and office chairs and alarm clocks and wrinkle cream and frying pans all come with instructions.  So why doesn't the biggest purchase we ever make, which affects every aspect of our life every single day?

If it turns out the manual contains information that's new to you, it's a lifesaver!  And if it doesn't, you just tuck it away in a drawer somewhere like you do with the manual for your coffeemaker or your ceiling fan, and maybe when it comes time to sell your home, the next owner will think it's a lifesaver.