Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books read in December 2016


1. Birdie by Tracie Lindberg
2. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
3. The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
4. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection edited by Hope Nicholson
5. The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head Is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
6. Belgravia by Julian Fellowes


1. Midnight in Death
2. Conspiracy in Death
3. Loyalty in Death

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Toronto Star:  
IF TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: This year you find that others count on you and want you to take the lead. Though you might need to adjust to handling what they ask of you, you will make it your pleasure to take on the responsibility. If you are single, romance will knock on your door. The person you meet through your work or a community commitment could become a long-term relationship. If you are attached, the two of you move to a new level of understanding. Both of you enjoy going out on the town together. LIBRA appreciates your leadership skills and would like to learn from you.
 Globe & Mail:
The lesson you need to learn over the coming year is that there is good and bad in everyone – yes, even in you. That does not mean you should never be judgmental but you do need to move away from the idea that some individuals are evil – they’re not

Sunday, December 18, 2016


When Eddie Izzard was running marathons across South Africa and periscoping his progress, I repeatedly saw people in the comments asking how he gets wifi way out in the middle of nowhere.

I've recently seen people call into question the authenticity of civilian tweets from Syria by saying that wifi couldn't possibly be working with all the war constantly knocking out power and infrastructure.

In both these cases, it's glaringly obvious to me that they aren't using wifi, they're using their data plan. They don't need a wifi hotspot (or electricity if their phone is charged), they're using...I don't actually know - satellites or towers or whatever it is that transmits cellular data.

My first thought was to wonder if people are now using "wifi" as a synonym for any type of wireless internet, even when it's clearly not actual wifi.

But another thing I hear about from time to time is the possibility of introducing free wifi in public places as a public service. And when I think about it, the number of places that offer free wifi as an amenity seems to be increasing - restaurants and stores and malls and even the TTC have introduced it, and the trend seems to be towards more rather than less public wifi.

All this time I've been assuming that everyone has a data plan (except me, because I'm frugal with my cellphone use). But could it be that far fewer people than I expected have data plans and far more people than I expected are dependent on wifi - to the extent that it doesn't even occur to them that people might have another method of connectivity?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shitty relatives cannot be persuaded. That's why they're shitty relatives.

From this week's Savage Love (emphasis mine):
Perhaps you're not the best person to ask, being a cis white man, but as a queer woman of color, the election had an extremely detrimental effect on my relationships with my white partners. I love and care for them, but looking at those results has me wondering why the fuck they didn't do better in reaching out to their shitty relatives? I'm sick of living at the whim of white America. I'm aware this is the blame stage of processing, but it's left me unable to orgasm with my white partners. I'm really struggling with what Trump means for me and others who look like me. I know my queer white partners aren't exempt from the ramifications of this, but I wish they had done better. Respond however you like.

The thing about shitty relatives is they cannot be effectively reached out to. If they could be effectively reached out to, we wouldn't know them as shitty relatives because they would have been effectively reached out to (and therefore ceased to be shitty) long before we became politically aware.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that LW should continue to have sex with people she doesn't want to have sex with, regardless of the reason. (And Dan Savage also stresses this point in his answer.) If recent political events have brought LW to the realization that she's only interested in partners who can effectively persuade their relatives towards acceptable politics (or whose relatives all had acceptable politics to start with), that is entirely her prerogative.

However, my point here today is that some people cannot be effectively reached out to. (Can you? Could a straight white cis man* effectively reach out to you and change your vote?)  And if your partners' shitty relatives were people who could be effectively reached out to, they would have been effectively reached out to long before their relative's partners became aware of them, and therefore wouldn't have fallen under your mental category of "shitty relatives" in the first place.  In a world where there are people who cannot be persuaded on a particular point, I don't think failing to persuade should be seen as insufficient diligence.

*I didn't learn about the English order of adjectives until well into my translation career - and learned about its existence from my Francophone colleagues! But I'm still struggling to figure out what the order of adjectives should be in the phrase "straight white cis man". LW lands on "cis white man", which is counterintuitive to me, but I can't objectively assess which is right/wrong/better/worse.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What to do when you never have an opinion

An excerpt from a recent Captain Awkward question:
And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?
(I recommend clicking through and reading the whole question with all the background before commenting on LW's specific situation.)

I have seen this sort of situation ("my partner asks what I think and I genuinely don't have an opinion") mentioned various times in various relationship advice forums, and I have an idea for how to handle it:

If you genuinely don't have an opinion on a multiple-choice question and, for whatever reason, you don't want to respond with "I genuinely don't have an opinion," pick the choice that is presented to you first.

If the other person objects, cheerfully go along with whatever they prefer.

If you find yourself viscerally objecting to whatever the first choice is, congratulations, you've just developed an opinion!

And if this is something that happens repeatedly within a particular relationship, the other party will eventually (consciously or unconsciously) start to notice that you always pick the first option, and will begin to (consciously or unconsciously) list their own (conscious or unconscious) preference first. Then they'll feel like you're both perfectly in sync and everyone will be happy.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The bizarro universe of new home construction

So when you buy a new home, the expectation is that there will be problems.  (They call them "deficiencies".)  I've had a number of them, ranging from the superficial (paint on a lighting fixture) to the more problematic (a draft caused by my balcony door being misaligned).

The developer has a system all set up to handle this. I report the deficiencies to this office, and they coordinate having people come in to repair them. Since I work from home, they just give me a ring to let me know when someone is coming, and a nice tradesperson swoops in and solves a problem for me, often answering any questions I might have along the way. (If I weren't home during the day, property management could let them in for me.)  Every individual I have dealt with throughout this process has been awesome, and no one has batted an eye at the number of things I have reported.

Everyone I know who has bought a new home (condo or detached) says they've gone through this.  Even my parents, who bought a new home back when I was still a fetus, went through this.  And everyone tells me it's normal.

What's weird to me is that it's normal!  Imagine in your own job, if you could turn in work with about at least a dozen mistakes!  I'd get fired for that kind of error rate! And imagine if this was considered fine and normal, to the extent that your employer had a whole infrastructure set up for your clients to report the mistakes you made, and then you'd resolve them in batches over the next several weeks. And your employer was considered a good service provider on the grounds that the mistakes were resolved promptly and cheerfully, and it would be completely unreasonable for your clients to expect you not to make mistakes in the first place!

And the bizarre thing is it's been like this for decades!  It was like this 36 years ago when my parents bought a new home, and no one has fixed it yet!

Don't get me wrong, I'd still rather have a newly-built home that only I have ever lived in than an older one that has the leavings of other people's different housekeeping priorities in it, but it blows my mind that for decades and decades this entire industry has just been okay with the fact that there are multiple deficiencies in the product delivered to the customer - especially when it's the biggest purchase of the customer's life and one that affects every aspect of their day-to-day happiness.

Friday, December 09, 2016

How I'm making my new home uninhabitable to anyone but me.

I blogged before about my filing system, where I sort things in order of when I received them after years of failing to sort stuff and just sticking it in the front of the file drawer.

As I've been setting up my new home and finding myself have to organize things, I've been coming up with more unique ways to organize things:

- I organized my desk drawer full of office supplies and other miscellany in order of "How likely am I to look for it?" Stuff I think I'm going to look for all the time goes in front, stuff I don't expect to look for goes in the back.

-In my file drawer, I made a folder for "stuff I can never figure out where to put and then can't find it and then panic". Now I'll never need to panic about not being able to find something again!

- In a bathroom drawer, I made a "stuff I use every day" section. Once I get drawer dividers figured out, I'll also add a "stuff I use regularly but not daily" section.

- My new place has a den. I'm used to living without a den and didn't deliberately seek one out (the suites that met my other requirements all came with dens). So I'm putting all the stuff that I can't figure out where to put it in the den, some of it in moving boxes, some of it in random piles.  I'm going to leave it like this for several months to see what makes its way out of the den, the I'm going to simply use the den as a storage room for everything else. In theory, I'll eventually acquire some kind of storage furniture or boxes that look more permanent than moving boxes, but who knows if this will actually happen in practice? Meanwhile, my desk is still in the living room like it's always been - previously because I didn't have a choice, but now because my den doesn't have windows and I don't want to spend the vast majority of my waking hours in a windowless nook.

In short, where my limited skills enable me to impose an organizational paradigm, I'm setting things up so they meet my own eccentric needs perfectly.  But, in the process of doing so, I seem to be creating a space that won't make sense to anyone else. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Things They Should Invent: computer program to automatically design custom-made organizers

There are all kinds of organizer-type products out there that purport to help you organize your clutter by putting it into compartments.  The problem I always find is that the compartments are never a good fit for my clutter.  For example, a drawer organizer might divide your drawer into nine tidy compartments, but I always end up in a situation where the contents of the drawer can logically be sorted into seven categories, one of which is too big for a single compartment, plus about 20% of the contents of the drawer are the wrong size or shape for any of the compartments.

As I've blogged about before, I own a beautiful wooden jewellery box full of tidy, velvet-lined compartments for organizing jewellery, and a significant portion of my jewellery doesn't fit in there because the shapes and sizes of the compartments don't correspond with the shapes and sizes of the jewellery. #FirstWorldProblems

It occurred to me that with 3D printing, people could make organizers that fit the actual stuff they're organizing.  I googled around the idea, and found that such a thing does in fact exist, except you have to input into a program the exact dimensions of the organizer you want to print.  For someone like me who's terrible at organizing tangible objects, that's very near impossible.

But that gave me an idea: what if you could input the dimensions of the items you want to organize and the space you want to organize them in, and a computer program would design the optimal organizer for you?

You could also input leeway for expansion, so the organizer will be able to hold items you might acquire in the future.  (In other words, your jewellery organizer would allow you the option of acquiring more jewellery in the future, as opposed to being 100% full and your whole system is stymied when you get another pair of earrings.)

Advanced option: you take a photo of all the items you need to organize and the space you need to organize them in, with some baseline reference item in the photo for scale, and the computer measures everything itself and designs the organizer automatically.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Books read in November 2016


1. The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon
2. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton


1. Holiday in Death 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Status report

So remember how I bought a condo four years ago? I just moved in today. Too soon to tell how I feel about it.

I'll be blogging more about the process as time passes. (The process isn't yet complete - final closing is still at some indefinite point in the future.)

In the meantime, I have a job for you all: if I start nimbying now that I'm a homeowner, call me out on it!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Laptop battery progress report

In April 2013, I blogged about mixed messages I was receiving about laptop battery management.

I just realized enough time has passed for a progress report.

In April 2013, my laptop battery died at the age of 28 months, during which I'd been using the computer primarily plugged into the wall but with the battery still installed and active.

After I replaced that battery, I decided to try disabling battery charging when the computer is plugged in, meaning that the power cord is not charging the battery but is rather providing power directly to the computer, although the battery is still physically present. I've been doing that for 42 months, and it still seems to be working well. The battery does gradually lose power over a period of many months (I have to charge it an average of twice a year) but it has lived for significantly longer than it did with the computer plugged into the wall.

I intend to proceed this way for the rest of the life of this battery.  I doubt this computer has the life expectancy to also test it with removing the battery, but if it it turns out it does, I'll test that and report back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Teach me about people who hand out flyers and coupons

Living in a neighbourhood with a lot of pedestrian traffic, I see a lot of people standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers and/or coupons.

My natural inclination is to politely decline anything I'm not in the market for.  But it occurred to me in the shower that I might be making their job harder, depending on how they are incentivized and/or rewarded by their employers.

Are they incentivized to get rid of all their flyers, or are they incentivized to have a high conversion rate?  If they have to stand out in the cold until they get rid of all their flyers, or if their employer looks more positively upon them for handing out more flyers, I'm doing them a kindness by taking a flyer regardless of whether I'm in the market for what they're selling. But if they're incentivized based on conversion rate, i.e. their employer looks more positive upon them for people actually coming into the business and buying something after receiving a flyer/coupon, I should keep rejecting things I have no intention of using.

Anyone know which approach would be the kindest to the people in this thankless job?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Moving stress braindump

I'm moving into my condo at the end of the month, and I'm really disproportionately stressed about it.  And I'm trying to figure out why.

I think part of it is that this doesn't have the potential for any immediately-appreciable increase in my quality of life.  Every move I've ever done at least had that potential.  When I moved out of my parents' house into res, I got to live away from prying adult eyes!  Every new res room gave me more privacy than the previous (apart from that one awful summer in summer res, but that was outweighed by actually working grownup jobs all summer for the first time in my life).  Then when I moved into my first apartment, I got a whole apartment with a living room and a bedroom and a bathroom and a kitchen, just like a real adult!  Then when I moved into my current apartment, I also got a dishwasher and washer/dryer, plus the decrease in panic attacks that comes with living in a brand new building. But the condo is comparable to my current apartment, so there's nothing to get excited about.

There are benefits to the condo, but they're dull, pragmatic long-term benefits. It's better for aging in place, it increases the likelihood of retirement being feasible in 20-30 years if retirement is still a thing then, etc.  That's the sort of thing that it's hard to work up a visceral positive emotional reaction about, but the work and uncertainty of moving still elicits a visceral stress reaction.


I don't remember getting this stressed with my previous moves, but I do think I got a lot more stressed about other things.  I was less secure in most areas of life, I hadn't yet discovered Entitlement, couldn't cope with my phobias as well, had far less experience with getting problems solved, and had far less cumulative empirical evidence that people will help me solve my problems when they arise. I mean, today alone I made two phone calls and sent several emails to people who may or may not be the right person to solve my problem. This past week at work, I solved three different problems caused by other people under extremely tight deadlines and even communicated with two of the clients myself without blinking an eye. I regularly patronize stores and restaurants that are way cooler than me, and often go in with specific needs or special requests.  And I do all this with complete sangfroid.  but I wasn't anywhere near as stressed about moving as I am now. What's going on?

Unsubstantiated theory: I'm out of practice with feeling stressed. The combination of working from home and having nearly all aspects of my life arranged just the way I like them means my baseline is zero stress.  I previously blogged that it would be awesome if I could save my day-to-day non-stressed feelings.  But what if it's actually working the other way and my coping muscles have atrophied?

Another unsubstantiated theory: I have a finite capacity for stress, so it's all manifesting itself in this one stressful thing as opposed to being distributed among multiple things like it was in the past.  I read a while back about a concept called the "psychological immune system", which suggests that the brain protects itself during times of high stress by limiting the amount of stress you experience. I found this concept difficult to believe when I first read about it.  But what if it had been working all along, and even the high stress I experienced back then was being limited by my psychological immune system?  And now that I'm not stressed in my day-to-day life, I'm feeling the full impact of the stress that I'm capable of handling?


Thinking back to when I was younger, I would never have said that my day-to-day stress is zero, but neither would I have said that I'm particularly stressed.  Things like the rush of the daily commute, getting frantic at an urgent text, getting nervous about making business phone calls, etc. were all part of baseline human reality for me.

Putting aside for a moment the current and (hopefully temporary) stress of moving and dealing with the condo purchase, I wonder if, in the future, I'll look back at the baseline that I currently perceive as zero-stress and wonder how I ever coped with that much daily stress?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Survival bias

Think about everyone you have known personally who was in the Second World War, either as a member of the military or as a civilian who happened to live in an area affected by the war.

They survived the war, didn't they?

Because WWII ended 71 years ago, and, unless I have readers who were alive during WWII themselves (if so, pop in the comments and say hi!), the people we know personally must necessarily have survived WWII because they lived long enough for us to know them personally.

And, because of this, I think we might have the subconscious impression that WWII was more survivable than it actually was.  Even though we know the death rates in raw numbers, we hardly ever have the stories of or from those who died. This is both because you most often have to live to tell the tale (the only exceptions I can think of are Anne Frank and Irène Némirovsky), but also because the vast majority of war deaths don't make interesting stories. If you're walking down the street and a bomb falls on your head, that's not an interesting story. If a soldier goes charging onto the battlefield and is promptly shot by the enemy, that's not an interesting story.

So we don't hear those stories, and because of that we are less inclined to think we would die instantly and unremarkably.  And this is even if we aren't envisioning ourselves as the hero of the story.  I know that when I think about what would happen if I ended up in a war, I'm certainly not under the impression that I could be a successful soldier or a hero of the resistance. But I'm imagining deprivation, suffering, rape and torture, being sent to a concentration camp - unceremonious instant death isn't even on my radar.

I think this extends to other areas of life as well. I've blogged before about gun people who think a good guy with a gun will necessarily beat a bad guy with a gun. They don't seem to be thinking of the possibility that when the good guy pulls out his gun, the bad guy will just shoot him.

I think we also hear it in narratives about serious illness.  We hear about survival stories.  Sometimes, especially when people are trying to sell something, we hear about people who defeated serious illness with traditional medicine or prayer or a very specific regimen of positive thinking that can be yours for three easy payments of $29.99.  Sometimes narratives about serious illness do involve death, and impose meaning on the patient's life or on the patient's death. But you never hear stories where a person gets diagnosed with something, does everything right, and dies meaninglessly.

I've seen cases where this survival bias affects public discourse. I've seen people making public statements that in WWII, various countries being invaded should have just fought back against the Nazis, when the countries in question did in fact have active resistance organizations.  In one of the recent US mass shootings, someone commented that the shooter wouldn't have succeeded if someone else present had had a gun, when in reality there were armed security guards present.

When I was first educating myself about WWI, a recurring theme was that they didn't know what they were getting into. The countries eagerly declaring war on each other and the young men rushing to enlist all seemed to think they were off on a jolly good adventure, none of them imagining just how many people would end up uselessly dead in the middle of no man's land. 

Was survival bias a thing 100 years ago?  And could it lead us into a similarly tragic situation again in the future?

No Remembrance Day blogathon this year

For the past several years, I've been blogathoning on Remembrance Day. Unfortunately, this year I'm very overwhelmed with all the stuff I have to do to prepare for my move and my condo purchase, and something's got to give.  Hopefully by this time next year life will be calm enough that I can resume the tradition.

Monday, November 07, 2016

People who can leave the house without a plan

With the already very loud US election coming to a crescendo, my various feeds are filling up with US "get out the vote" advice.  And one piece of advice I keep seeing is that you should make a specific plan to vote - when you're going to do it, how you're going to get there, what you'll do if you encounter various possible obstacles.  Apparently people who make a plan are more likely to actually end up voting.

The part that baffles me: are there people who don't make a plan when they're going out to get shit done?  Because I can't not!

The plans I make are nothing terribly complex or arduous, but they are present.  For example, today's was "It's 15 degrees, not doing anything important, so I'll wear the pink shirt, black sweater and jeans. I need to mail the card and acquire lemon cupcakes. The mailman collects from the nearest mailbox at 5, and I have a phone appointment at 5.  So stop working at 4, write, address and stamp the card, put the card in my purse, put on default boots and black trenchcoat. Walk to the mailbox, mail the card, check the time. If I have time to go to Loblaw's before my phone appointment, go to Loblaw's and buy lemon cupcakes if they have time. If I don't have time to go to Loblaw's or they don't have lemon cupcakes, go home so I can make my phone appointment and go to the cupcake place after my phone appointment."

I don't do this on purpose.  My brain just does it before I leave the house.

But apparently there are people who can leave the house - even on a day when they have an important, time-sensitive errand, without making a plan?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Alternatives to political debates

I've been thinking for some time that debates between political candidates aren't particularly useful, because they don't reflect the actual work of being a political leader.  Political leaders aren't (or shouldn't be) spending their days arguing with someone advocating for a different policy platform, they are (or should be) their days providing leadership to get shit done, often with an irritatingly finite budget and a politically divided legislature.  Instead of debates (or, if people insist, in addition to debates), candidates should have to do televised activities to reflect that.

My shower has given me two ideas so far:

1. Assembling Ikea furniture:  The candidate has the instructions but can't touch the actual furniture parts or tools. The candidate oversees a team of people who are allowed to touch the parts and tools but aren't allowed to look at the instructions.  The candidate has to effectively communicate what needs doing to the team. To up the difficulty level, maybe there are multiple pieces of furniture to be assembled and the parts are all mixed in together. Maybe there's one or more parts missing, or one or more parts extra.  Maybe the other team has the missing parts!

2. Scavenger hunt: The candidates are given a list of things to find (impossible ideal: a randomly-generated subset of all the things in the world), a specific budget, and a team of people. Their mission is to bring all the things to a designated location.  The crucial thing about this scavenger hunt is that it is not designed to be logistically feasible. Some items might be more expensive than the budget allows for. Some items might be extremely difficult to move. Some items might belong to someone who is reluctant to give them up or sell them or lend them.  Maybe the last surviving white rhino is on the list. Maybe the Stone of Scone is on the list. Maybe the Pope's underwear is on the list. (As well as easier things like a pink paperclip or a ferret or a bottle of EKU 28.) And the candidates and their teams have to plan and strategize and persuade to figure out how to get all these things, in time and under budget, despite whatever obstacles exist.

In both cases, there are several options for who is on each candidate's team. Maybe they have a team of randomly selected politicians they'll have to work with, e.g. MPs if this is a contest between prospective Prime Ministers. Maybe they have a team randomly selected from a group of volunteers - people volunteer to be part of this, but which candidate's team they're on (or if they're selected at all) is left up to chance. Maybe the candidate gets to appoint their team. (I like the idea of a team partially randomly-selected and partially appointed, so we can see both how the candidates work with people who don't necessarily support them as well as the power of the candidate's metaphorical rolodex and the candidate's judgement in choosing a team.)

In all cases, the goal is not to see who finishes the task first or fastest, but rather to see how they handle the tasks. How do they elicit the desired performance from people who aren't necessarily enthusiastic allies? How do they deal with obstacles and frustrations? How do they deal with limited resources?  What are their responsibility and blame dynamics like?

Ideally, these challenges wouldn't be scored and wouldn't be set up to necessarily have a clear winner.  The goal is to let voters observe the process and see just what kinds of leaders these candidates would make.

Can you think of any other activities that would be similarly useful in achieving this goal?

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Daylight Saving Time and sunrises

When they were talking about changing daylight saving time in 2007, my primary concern (which wasn't one that seemed to get much in the way of media attention) was that more people would have to wake up in the dark and start work and school in the dark, which would mess with our circadian rhythms.

That concern went unheeded, and daylight saving time changed despite my protests.

I've been struggling to drag myself out of bed these past couple of weeks (yes, even with my work-from-home schedule), and, with some googling, I realized it's because sunrise is even later than it is at winter solstice!

Just before daylight saving time starts, sunrise here in Toronto will be at 7:59 AM.

But the latest it gets in December is 7:51 AM.

Even if there are in fact good reasons for extending daylight saving time, there is no excuse whatsoever for making even later than it is in the bleak midwinter. If it absolutely must be a certain number of weeks, they should make it start earlier in the spring, resulting in a sunrise time of 7:30-7:40.  But the latest natural winter sunrise time should be a rubicon that is never crossed.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Books read in October 2016


1. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
2. Down The Rabbit Hole (anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan
3. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin


1. Ceremony in Death
2. Vengeance in Death

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Things They Should Invent: website comparing hotel beds

I recently stayed in Marriott hotel, and I found the bed uncomfortable. The mattress was too firm for my liking, the pillows were not firm enough, and the covers weren't heavy enough (in terms of weight, not necessarily warmth - I feel more secure sleeping under a large, weighty duvet).

Because of this, I'd prefer to avoid staying at a Marriott in the future. However, I have no idea what hotels might have beds that are more to my liking.

There are some people in the world who travel extensively and stay in all kinds of different hotels.  Perhaps some of them have found the Marriott beds similarly uncomfortable, but have also discovered a hotel whose beds are more comfortable.  Or, conversely, perhaps some of them found the Marriott beds to their liking after experiencing another hotel where they thought the mattress was not firm enough and the pillows were too firm, so I could extrapolate from that to choose the hotel whose bed they disliked.

With a critical mass of bed reviews, travellers could enter their preferred bed criteria and find the hotel that best meets them, which would certainly make everyone's travel experience more pleasant!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Warning: there's a good chance you might have to face backwards on a VIA Rail train

I recently travelled outside the GTA for the first time in years, so I decided to indulge myself by taking the train. Trains are my favourite mode of transportation for many reasons, not least of which is that, unlike cars, buses and planes, I don't get motion sick on rails.  I can read to my heart's content on a train, whereas on a road or in the air I spend the entire trip fighting off nausea.

However, on the first leg of my journey, I was surprised to discover that my seat - and many others in the train car - faced backwards.

Riding backwards makes me nauseous even on rails.  I don't think I could have even made it to the next station without vomiting. Fortunately, a staff member promptly and cheerfully switched me to a forward-facing seat.  Unfortunately, I got the last forward-facing seat, so the poor lady behind me was struggling with her own motion-sickness for the rest of the journey.

I asked if my seat on my return journey would be facing forward, and no one on the train or in the station could tell me because they don't know until the train is actually pulled up to the platform what kind of configuration it has.

Fortunately I was facing forward on the way home, but if I hadn't been I would have had to literally get off the train, eat the cost of cancelling my ticket last minute, and find another way home.  If I were to fly, at least I'd only be fighting off nausea for one hour instead of four!

VIA Rail does not yet have the ability to specify a forward-facing seat when you book, but they've assured me on Twitter that they intend to implement this functionality by the end of 2017.

I hope they do, so whenever I next have to travel I can again enjoy a nausea-free trip.  But until then, beware if, like me, you absolutely have to face forwards.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I do not recommend Calvin Klein Ultimate Sexy Sheer Thigh Highs

I recently tried a pair of Calvin Klein Ultimate Sexy Sheer Thigh High stockings, and I don't recommend them.

One stocking stayed up fine, but the other simply couldn't stand up to walking. In the time it took me to walk to the elevator and across the lobby, it had fallen down below my kneecap, and when I tried to pull it back up it immediately got a huge run.

Unlike other thigh-highs I've worn previously, these had a sort of sticky adhesive in the top in addition to the elastic to help it stay up. This adhesive was uncomfortable on my skin, and didn't even make the stockings stay up for long enough for me to get out of the building.

I don't have enough recent hosiery experience to recommend a better thigh-high, but if you're in the market for thigh-highs, try something else.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another way to improve any assisted dying legislation

A problem with attempts to legislate assisted dying is that they attempt to define in legislation what does and doesn't constitute a good enough reason to die, and thereby what does and doesn't constitute adequate quality of life. As life and death are infinite and complex, some things will almost certainly fall through the cracks.

At the same time, when legislation includes specific things that are considered acceptable reasons to want to die, some people who have those conditions or experiences but don't want to die sometimes take offence, as though society is telling them that they don't deserve to live.  And this push-back may lead legislators to be reluctant to include additional specific conditions, for fear of offending more constituents.

These problems could be mitigated with a single provision: if the patient wants to die because of the absence of a specific aspect of quality of life, and the patient does not have a reasonable chance of gaining or regaining that aspect of quality of life, the patient is permitted to die.

The advantage of this is it takes legislators out of the business of deciding what is and isn't deathworthy (or, depending on your perspective, lifeworthy). Each patient gets to set their own priorities.

In carrying this out, medical professionals should drill down and make sure they pinpoint the actual quality of life issue that's important to the patient, in case it could be addressed some other way.  For example, if a patient says "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed," what exactly is it about being paralyzed that makes them feel it's deathworthy? Are they afraid of never having sex again? Are they afraid of being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life? And are these things that actually happen if you're paralyzed, or are there workarounds that the patient doesn't know about?

If they pinpoint that what the patient actually fears is being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life, the living will would be edited from "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed" to "I want to die if I ever end up in a condition where I'm dependent on someone else to bathe me for the rest of my life," which not only addresses the actual problem, but also includes situations the patient didn't anticipate where they might end up unable to bathe themselves.  It would also tell the patient's medical team where to focus, so they can make a point of trying everything to enable the patient to bathe themselves.

In interviewing the patients to drill down and identify their actual concerns, medical professionals would need to be extremely careful not to be judgemental. They'd need to make very certain to treat every concern as completely valid, and not try to talk patients out of it or even react negatively if the concern sounds petty or shallow or superficial. I know this would be difficult for some corners of the medical profession where people see the direst aspects of the human experience every day and would feel inclined to laugh in the face of "I want to die if I can never again eat recreationally."

But if we can successfully legislate and implement a system where patients choose which aspects of quality of life they see as lifeworthy and deathworthy for themselves with the guidance and support of an empathetic and knowledgeable medical team, that will eliminate many potential problems of mislegislation.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Tales from Grade 9 group work

Grade 9 science class. I was generally uncomfortable in this class. My friends all abandoned me at the beginning of the year and I hadn't made any new friends. There wasn't even anyone in this class with whom I casually socialized. I sat alone at one of those lab tables that's intended for two people.

I was good at science, but didn't have any particular passion for it. Because I'd spent the last three years being bullied for being a trekkie, I was worried that here, in Big Scary High School, I'd be bullied for showing any aptitude towards science. But this was a required course. I had no choice. So I kept my head down, quietly did my work, and pulled in low As, making a point of not putting in enough effort or enthusiasm to get high As.

One of our assignments was that we had to dissect a fish. This worried me. I'm a naturally squeamish person. Even the smell of the stuff the fish were preserved in (formaldehyde?) turned my stomach. I tried to think of ways to get out of it, tried to figure out if I could make an argument on moral grounds (I'd recently gone vegetarian, but my shoes were still leather - you can't be picky when you wear a size 11!), but I knew I'd never have the support of my parents and I didn't want to get in trouble, or to draw attention to myself if my attempt wasn't going to be successful. So I found myself there, in the nauseatingly smelly classroom, the day the fishes were being dissected.

I was grouped up with the two boys behind me. This worried me too. I didn't know them very well, but they seemed like the kind of people who would be mean to me. They got poor marks in the class, and had that unfortunate early adolescent male "might not necessarily have bathed within the last 24 hours" look. They wore faded heavy metal t-shirts, probably smoked, and would almost certainly know how to get beer. They used swear words in casual conversation (a habit I hadn't yet picked up) and called breasts "boobies" (which was more disrespectful than I was comfortable with at the time - not to mention that they talked about breasts in class enough that I knew what they called them). It was like Wayne & Garth meet Beavis & Butthead. I was afraid not only that they might be mean to me, but that they might use the bits of dissected dead fish to torment me, putting fish eyeballs down my shirt and the like. So it was with trepidation that I turned around to their table and huddled over the dissection tray with them.

To my surprise, the boys did not hesitate to pick up the scalpel and start cutting the fish open. I'd thought I was going to have to do it myself! Bonus! So I just sat back watching the proceedings. They get the fish open, and remove something from its guts using the tweezers.

"What's this?" they wonder. It's large and lumpy, didn't seem very attached to anything, takes of most of the fishy's belly, and doesn't look like anything in the diagram.

"Eggs," I blurt out. "The stuff in the diagram is probably still in there, underneath the eggs."

They look at me, pleasantly surprised. It makes perfect sense! They open Ms. Fishy up some more, and find stuff that looks more like the diagram in the book. The more artistic of the two boys starts sketching it, and the other boy carefully, fascinatedly, does the actual dissection. My job is simply to identify the parts and their function, which I could easily do without touching or getting too close to the dead fish. Whenever I identified a part, the boys would peer at the fish, fascinated, lightbulbs going off in their heads, and Artistic Boy would add it to the drawing. Then when we were done, Artistic Boy added a sketch of the eggs to the drawing, Other Boy cleaned up all the gross dissecting stuff, and I quickly knocked off the written part of our assignment.

When we got our assignment back, we'd gotten a perfect mark, plus bonus points for identifying and dealing with the eggs without assistance from the teacher. The boys were quite impressed - they never got perfect marks! - and I was rather pleased to have gotten through the assignment without puking or getting fish eyeballs down my shirt or even having to touch a dead fish! We each came away feeling like we'd done the easy part or the fun part and the other people had done all the work, but the result was better than any of us could have achieved alone.

It would never have occurred to me that I might have something that smoking, drinking metalheads - boys who looked scarier than the boys who used to bully me - could use. And it certainly would never have occurred to me that they could have something I could use. We didn't become friends - I never saw them outside of that class, and don't even remember their names. But we were cordial neighbours who occasionally helped each other out in science class using our respective talents. While this all seems perfectly innocuous now, it was a new concept to my 14-year-old self who was still skittish from years of bullying, and it worked far better than I ever would have imagined.


This should have been revelatory. It should have led me to seek out people with complementary skill sets for group projects, even if they aren't the kind of people I would seek out as friends. It should have led me to see the value in what I can contribute and what others can contribute and how this can all be combined to make a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

But, unfortunately, soon after that came the health class project.


I forget exactly what the health class project was, but what's relevant is that it needed a written report and several medical diagrams.  I was paired with a girl who was cooler than me, whom I very much wanted to befriend. As we looked over the assignment and planned out what we needed to do, I found myself most intimidated by the diagrams. No way could I draw these complicated medical diagrams!  Fortunately, the girl I was paired with could draw, so she started by doing the diagrams while I knocked off the written part of the report.  I'd done about 12 pages of writing to her 3 pages of drawing, but it took us the same amount of time and we each felt that we'd done the easy part.

Unfortunately, the way the health teacher marked group projects was by asking the group members how much they'd each done, and distributing marks accordingly.  And because my work took up so many more pages than hers, I got a better mark.

My 14-year-old self wasn't assertive enough to argue the point to the teacher, pointing out that we'd spent the same amount of time and that my classmate had made the invaluable contribution of doing the work that I was terrible at.  So I walked away with the higher mark and she walked away with the lower mark.

We never became friends. (I just googled her, and she's even cooler now.)  And my nascent inspiration to seek out complementary skill sets for group work were was squelched for the rest of my academic career.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Books read in September 2016


1. The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Paynter
2. Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film by Glenn Kurtz
3. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
4. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany


1. Glory in Death
2. Immortal in Death
3. Rapture in Death

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Things I want to know from history but can't seem to google up properly

How were multiple brothers with the same surname addressed?

In the early 19th century (and probably some adjacent eras as well), the oldest unmarried daughter in a family was addressed as Miss [Surname], and her younger sisters were addressed as Miss [Firstname]. For example, the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice are addressed as Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia.  In Little Women, Meg and Jo receive an invitation to a danced addressed to "Miss March and Miss Josephine".

My question: what about brothers?  If there were multiple adult brothers, how were they addressed?

Which way did the buttons on lady's maids' dresses go?

Conventional wisdom says that men's clothes and women's clothes button on opposite sides because men dressed themselves and women had help getting dressed. (I question that, because upper-class men had valets just like upper-class women had lady's maids, but that is what the conventional wisdom says.)

But, within that reasoning, what about the clothes worn by lady's maids and other women who helped upper-class women get dressed? Did their buttons go in the same direction as men's, or did they emulate the fashions of upper-class women?

I've been dressing myself in women's clothes since I developed the motor skills to do so, and, as a result, I find it awkward and counterintuitive to button up a men's shirt on myself. I once bought a set of men's pyjamas when I was having trouble finding a pair of straightforward cotton pyjamas in the women's section, and I find the backwards buttons so irritating that I leave them buttoned up all the time and put the top over my head like a t-shirt. Surely any advantage of reversing the buttons would be negated by the fact that the lady's maid is accustomed to dressing herself...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jason from Iowa who lived in the last trailer on the right and was born on the 4th of July

The Ani DiFranco song 4th of July, which tells the story of a child she met while driving through Iowa, contains the following lyric:
He says his name is Jason
He lives in the last trailer on the right
And he'll be seven
On the fourth of July
This song is from Ani's 1993 album Puddle Dive, which means that, if Jason is real, he was at least 6 years old in 1993.

That means he's at least 29 years old now.  And every time this song comes up in my playlist, I wonder what happened to him.

Does he still live in the trailer park? Did he get married? Did he have children? Did he join the military and get PTSDed in Iraq? Did he go to university and become a professor of comparative literature? Has he ever heard this song? Does he know it's about him?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The first chair

Every once in a while, I see an article about how sitting is apparently terrible for our health, which makes me think about why and how it came about that we sit.

Humans sleep lying down, so you can see how we would stumble upon the notion of sitting as a transition point.  Early fires would most likely be built on the ground, so you'd have to sit to tend to or use or enjoy the fire.

When you visualize people sitting around a fire, they're often sitting on rocks or logs.  And you can see why a person would rather sit on a rock or log than on the possibly-damp probably-dirty ground.

And before we had furniture of any sort (including tables), it was probably more convenient to sit on the ground to do things like make clothes or butcher animals than it would be to stand up.

But then someone thought of tables for whatever reason (maybe things were cleaner when not at ground level even if people hadn't invented cleaning yet? Maybe vermin and animals couldn't get at stuff as easily if it was up higher?)  And then someone thought of the idea that it would be more comfortable to sit when working at the table than to stand, and figured out how to build a device to make that happen.

This has me wondering what the ratio of time spent sitting vs. standing was before we had furniture.  People had to stand to hunt or to farm, although they probably sat for things like meal preparation and making tools.  Which did they perceive as the default?  Did they make chairs to use at tables so they could sit like they usually did?  Or did they originally feel that table use was standing like they usually did and then make chairs for some other reason?

Or did they first make non-table chairs (whatever the early equivalent of couches or armchairs was) and then come up with the idea of using chairs at tables (or even the idea of tables) later?

Have there ever been any cultures where people didn't sit, at all, ever?  Have there ever been any cultures where they sat but didn't use chairs?  (I have the probably-stereotypical idea absorbed from the ether that they tended not to use chairs in Japan before Western influence.)

I also wonder if there have been any cultures with different postures that had their own furniture (i.e. not sitting, standing, lying down, kneeling, anything we have a verb for in English) but are now lost to history.  Or maybe they're not lost to history, I'm just ignorant of them.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

In which I fall for a practical joke perpetrated by a baby

I'm waiting to cross a street, and this guy pushing a baby in a stroller is waiting next to me. I can't tell how old the baby is - I'd say more than 8 months but less than 2 years.

Suddenly, the baby points skyward and looks up, as though he sees something interesting.  For some reason the father doesn't respond, but I look up to see what the baby's looking at.  However, I don't see anything.  No airplanes, no balloons, no clouds, no birds sitting on a wire, nothing.

So I look back at the baby and say "What do you see?"

And he looks me in the eye and bursts out laughing.

He totally tricked me, and I totally fell for it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The first cleaning

Someone, at some point in human history, was the first person to clean.  Someone was the first person to discover that water washes dirt off (probably when a dirty person went for a swim or fell into some water, or got water on themselves in the process of drinking water), and then someone was the first person to do that intentionally.

Which means someone was also the first person to come up with the idea that having no dirt on something was superior to having dirt on it.  (It's also possible that someone came up with this idea before they figured out that water washed dirt off, so they were just thinking "Man, this situation would be way better if there was no dirt on this thing!" but couldn't do anything about it)  Possibly the situation that led to this thought was something drastic, like their food fell into a pile of woolly mammoth poo, but it's also possible that, in a world where it had never before occurred to anyone that food would be better with no poo on it, no one would perceive that as a drastic situation.

Before it occurred to anyone to bathe, everyone must have smelled. Which means that they were probably immune to the fact that everyone smelled.  So imagine the first person to bathe thoroughly enough to wash off their smell. Could they then smell everyone else?  Did they think "OMG, everyone smells!" or did they think "Man, I'm never using water to get the dirt of me again, because doing that makes everyone smell"?  Or did the dirty people think the clean person smelled?

And let's talk about soap!  Soap is made of fat and lye. Lye is made by leaching ashes. Who on earth figured that out??  And imagine trying to explain to other people that really, this will eventually make stuff cleaner!  Did they have other soap-like things before that are now lost to history because they were less effective?

When people lived outdoors or in caves, their floor was, obviously, dirt (or whatever the surrounding environment was made of - the floors of igloos might have been made of snow, for example). And then in the first human-constructed shelters, the floor would have been made of dirt as well. So someone was the first person to think of building a floor out of wood or whatever, and then someone else was probably the first person to think of cleaning the dirt off that floor!

Also, someone was the first person to think of dusting. Once indoors had been invented and material possessions that are kept indoors over long periods of time had been invented (which is a whole other thing, isn't it? The first clutter!), stuff started getting dusty. (Why doesn't stuff that's outdoors get dusty?)  Someone was the first person to realize this was a problem, and to think of wiping stuff down to remove the dust.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition XII

If you do something assholic out of ignorance, you have to read a book or article or watch a movie or otherwise consume a piece of media chosen by the victim of your assholicness.

The victim doesn't have to assign you your reading right away. They retain the option of assigning you reading at any point in the future, or not at all.  (The purpose here is to avoid imposing upon the victim the additional burden of figuring out how to educate you, while leaving the door open for if they ever stumble upon the exact thing that would address your ignorance.)

Possible variation: if the total time the victim is affected by your ignorant assholicness exceeds the amount of time it takes you to consume the media, they are permitted to assign you multiple pieces of media to consume, with a total consumption time equal to the amount of time they were affected by your ignorant assholicness.

Another possible variation: the victim can appoint a proxy to assign you your reading.

The reading can, of course, include anything the victim has written. I'm also open to it including a face-to-face conversation, but the interpersonal dynamics of a face-to-face "This is why what you are doing is wrong" conversation can be difficult and put the person whose behaviour needs to change on the defensive.

I know that when I, personally, do something assholic out of ignorance, I want to learn how to do better. And I know that it is a burden to ask people who are already suffering from my ignorance to do the additional work of educating me. If they could just give me something to read, whenever they happen to stumble upon something that would do the job, that would relieve the burden from both of us.

And, as an added bonus, people who are being intentionally assholic but claiming innocent ignorance would come away with homework.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Things They Should Invent: put the sidewalk on the shady side of the street

Some streets (usually small side streets) have a sidewalk on only one side of the street.

There should be a rule that, in cases where they only have one sidewalk for whatever reason, the sidewalk has to be on the side of the street that's shadiest on summer afternoons.

Shade on hot days contributes more to pedestrian comfort than sun on cold days, and summer afternoons are the time of day and time of year that's the hottest.  This can also be a quality of life factor for the most vulnerable people, like the very old, the very young, and those with health problems.

Pedestrians shouldn't have to choose between being safe from cars and being safe from sunstroke. There needs to be some basis for deciding where to put the sidewalk in cases where they don't put one on each side of the street, so why not put it on the side where it will best contribute to quality of life?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books read in August 2016


1. Devoted in Death
2. Wonderment in Death
3. Brotherhood in Death
4. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
5. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
6. Citizen: Am American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 


1. Obsession in Death
2. Naked in Death

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Things They Should Study: do political positions correlate with attitudes towards politically-incompatible celebrities?

Sometimes the celebrities I follow on Twitter get people telling them to shut up about politics and stick to entertainment.

This is something I find difficult to understand. 

I do see why someone might not want incompatible political opinions turning up in their Twitter feed.  But what I don't understand is why you'd want to keep following someone once you know that they hold these incompatible opinions.

When someone has incompatible politics (by which I don't mean simply that I don't agree with them, but rather that I see their position as outright harmful and/or cruel) I'm not able to respect them enough to be a fan of them. I cease to be interested in their day-to-day life and thoughts, and most likely in their work as well.  Even if for some reason I do maintain interest in their work (for example, perhaps if one member of an ensemble cast for a major fandom has incompatible politics) I no longer have any desire to hear from them as an individual, just to see the finished work.

It would be interesting to study this on a broader level.  Are there any patterns of the political opinions or affiliation of people who want to continue following politically-incompatible celebrities but not hear about their politics, as compared with people who lose interest in politically-incompatible celebrities, as compared with people who can cheerfully continue following a celebrity without regard for their incompatible politics.

They could also study whether there are patterns in real-life relationships as opposed to celebrity-fan relationships, but I find the celebrity-fan relationship particularly interesting because it's unidirectional. If a parent holds political opinions you consider harmful, there's an element of "How can you bring a child into the world and then work politically to make the world a worse place?" But the celebrity has no loyalty or attachment to the individual fan and the fan adores the celebrity, so it's an interesting and unique dynamic.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why can you mail packages in street mailboxes?

Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Those red Canada Post mailboxes you see on the sidewalks have a small silver flap into which you can put individual letters, and a larger pull-down door into which you can put packages, as shown at right.

Mailboxes have been like this for as long as I can remember.  Even when I was a child in the 1980s, ever mailbox I saw (some of which, I'm sure, long predated the 1980s) had the large opening for packages.

Which raises the question: why would anyone put a package in a street mailbox? Correct postage for a package varies depending on size and weight, and, even if you could reliably calculate the postage at home, people rarely have a wide selection of different denominations of stamps that would enable them to affix correct postage.  Under normal circumstances, you'd have to go to a post office.  So why would a person ever put a package in the mailbox?

Of course, in the 21st century, the answer is ecommerce. When returning a product from a website with free returns (and perhaps under other circumstances of which I'm unaware), sometimes you get a shipping label that you can stick on a package and pop it right into a mailbox without having to go to the post office.

But mailboxes were designed to accommodate packages long before ecommerce was a thing!  Why?  Under what circumstances did people mail packages in street mailboxes back in the day?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Late-breaking story on the CBC

I know this has already been thoroughly commented on in many, many places, but I feel the need to post it here for the record:

The CBC's coverage of the Tragically Hip's final concert was an outstanding example of our public broadcaster meeting the needs of Canadians.

We had a need that could be met with a television broadcast.  But, at the same time, this need was not super compatible with the conventions of television broadcasting.  The format required it to be commercial-free, despite the fact that it was in prime time and had a huge number of viewers.  And it happened to be during the Olympics, for which the CBC held broadcasting rights.  It was of unpredictable duration.  The content would likely contain some swear words.  Canadians abroad needed to be able to see it just as much as Canadians at home.

And the CBC overcame all these obstacles to make it happen, prioritizing the needs of Canadians rather than bureaucratic or penny-pinching requirements or the need to put commercials in front of eyeballs.  They could just as easily (actually, far more easily) have shrugged their shoulders and said "Sorry, we're committed to the Olympics", or "Well, we have to run commercials to earn our keep," or "You can't say 'fuck' on television!" or "Broadcast only available in Canada" and we wouldn't even have noticed. But instead they stepped up, figured out a way to make it work, and served a huge number of Canadians - more than twice the number of Canadians who voted for the winning party in any election in my lifetime!

Many people noticed and appreciated this, and I hope that creates and sustains the political will to give the CBC the resources it needs to keep meeting our needs in the future, even when they don't correspond tidily with the conventions of broadcasting.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New rule: don't hold a glass door open unless your hand is on the handle

Glass door with vertical handle
Many of the doors I pass through in my day-to-day life are made of glass with a single vertical handle on the side opposite the hinge, like in the image to the right (click to embiggen).

Often, as with other kinds of doors, the person in front of me will try to hold the door for me even after they've taken their hand off the handle, by putting their hand on the glass part of the door.

The problem with that is it leaves fingerprints on the door, which some poor cleaning person will have to clean off!

Barring extenuating circumstances, cleaning fingerprints off glass is far harder than opening a door! By holding open the door with your hand on the glass, you're making a net negative contribution to other people's ease and comfort, not a net positive contribution.

Therefore, I propose that putting one's hand on the glass of the door should be considered rude, and doing so in the course of holding it open for someone who is perfectly capable of holding it open themselves should not be considered polite enough to outweigh the rudeness.

(Holding the door for someone who is genuinely unable to open the door because their hands or full or they're not strong enough or something is polite enough to outweigh the rudeness, but we should nevertheless endeavour not to touch the glass.)

And if you really feel that you would be perceived as rude if you're not seen holding the door open for someone, all you have to do is keep your hand on the handle for as long as possible as you walk through, ending with your arm stretched out all the way (and perhaps looking expectantly back), like this gentleman.

(Although the optimal way is still to be completely on the outside of the door, like this gentleman.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another analogy for being incapable of faith

Some clever internet person once said atheism is a religion like not playing golf is a sport.

As I've blogged about before, I'm an atheist because I'm congenitally incapable of religious faith. Today my shower tweaked this analogy to apply to the kind of atheism that results from congenitally incapable of faith.

Think about Olympic weight-lifting, where they have those ridiculously huge weights and lift them over their heads while making an enormous amount of noise.

Imagine you can't lift those weights. Even if you take them apart, you can't lift the individual components.  Furthermore, you were raised to think that being able to lift the weights was morally imperative, so you spent several years diligently engaged in a regime that, to the best of the knowledge available, would maximize your chances of being able to lift the weights.  But you never developed the ability to lift the weights.

So, atheism is a religion like not being able to lift the weights is a sport.

And faking religion despite being an atheist would be like claiming to be a weight-lifter, talking loudly about your training regime, making sure you're seen at the gym, but still not being able to lift the weights.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How did the logistics of money work back when money only existed tangibly?

I watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones recently (don't think I'm going to continue - the gory parts visit me in my dreams - so you don't have to worry about spoiling me), and I found myself wondering how the logistics of money worked in that era.

(I know Game of Thrones isn't actually a historical era, but there would have been a period of time when money worked similarly in real-life history.)

At various points in the story, wealthy characters go on extremely long journeys. Sometimes during these journeys they need to spend money on things, and sometimes not all these expenses are anticipated. For example, at one point, a character invites another character to travel with him and offers to pay his way.  At another point, a character who has temporarily relocated to the king's castle while leaving most of his household at home in his own castle hires a swordfighting instructor for his daughter, even though, when he left home, he didn't know this would be a necessity.

Since they didn't have bank accounts or the ability to wire money, their money was actual coins, or perhaps jewels and other valuables.  So if they're away from home (where, presumably, their actual tangible money lives), they have to take some coins with them to cover their expenses during the journey.

But what if they misestimate their expenses and run out of the coins that they brought with them, but still have plenty of money at home in their keep or vault or Scrooge McDuck-style money room or wherever it was they'd keep their wealth?  Was there some for them to get more money other than sending a runner for it?  (If so, were there occasionally fraudulent runners coming to castles where the lord was away and saying they'd been sent by the lord to bring him 1000 gold coins?) Or did nobility occasionally get stranded on their journeys because they didn't bring enough coins with them?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The tale of the door-opening hypocrite

I was heading into my building just as two older gentlemen were heading out. Our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time, so I picked up my pace a touch so I could get there first, figuring that if I'm the one who unlocks the door, they won't have to make the choice between politeness (i.e. opening the door for me) and building security (i.e. letting me in without knowing whether I'm authorized.)  As I pass them, I hear one of the men say to the other "In the old days, girls would let you be a gentleman and open the door for them!" Meh, whatever. I don't owe him an explanation, so I just proceed as though I haven't heard him.

A couple of days latter, I'm once again heading into the building and the man who made that comment is once again heading out. This time he's accompanied by a small child, and, once again, our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time. But then the child starts running to push the wheelchair button before I get to the door. So I slow my pace a touch to let the kid get to the button first, figuring the man has already seen me unlocking the door and knowing that pressing the button will probably make the kid's day.  Then the man calls for the kid to stop, so I let myself in. To my surprise, as I'm walking past them, I hear him explaining to the kid how you shouldn't press the button if someone's coming in because you don't know if they live in the building or not.

It's interesting to me that this gentleman felt the need to either fake wanting to let me in for the benefit of his gentleman friend or to fake not wanting to let me in for the benefit of the child.  And I can't even tell which one was real and which one was fake.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Analogy for explaining the joke

I previously blogged about how humour is like sex.

Building on that:

Some people, when they attempt to tell a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, start explaining the alleged joke. As though it's not possible that the alleged joke wasn't funny, and the only possible explanation is that the audience didn't understand it.

That's like trying out a move you read about on the internet and then, when it doesn't work, earnestly explaining to your partner how the internet told you that's where the g-spot is supposed to be.

No matter how solid your theory is, the fact of the matter is it didn't hit the spot. And explaining it isn't going to induce the desired pleasure.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ad-supported media should never have worked in the first place

There's been a lot of media talk recently about how declining advertising revenues put various media outlets and websites at risk and how websites especially are taking extraordinary efforts to get ads in front of people who don't want to see them.

And in all of this, it occurs to me: it's bizarre that ad-supported media has lasted this long in the first place!

I can see why a business might consider spending a certain amount of money to make potential customers aware of it. And I can see why a media outlet might consider offering paid placements.

But it doesn't even make sense that businesses would be willing to spend so much on advertising that it supports the existence of entire media outlets, to the point of being their primary or only source of revenue!

Think about all the ads you're exposed to in a day. How many do you even notice?  (If you're like me, you're not even looking at the parts of the newspaper pages where they put the ads, or going to the bathroom during commercial breaks.) Of these, how many do you pay attention do? Of these, how many affect your purchasing decisions? Maybe a handful over a lifetime, compared with the dozens (hundreds?) you're exposed to every day.

How is that worth businesses' while to pay for?

The decline of the advertising model is a market correction. Something that never made sense in the first place is ceasing to function. Yes, it's inconvenient, but it was inevitable, long before the dawn of the internet or of ad blockers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why do some plugs and cables wear out?

My earbuds stop working every few months. First one ear goes, then both of them.  It seems to happen whether I buy them cheap or mid-range. (Haven't tried expensive ones myself, but other people have told me they wear out too.)  This has been happening since I was a teenager using them to listen to a walkman, and it continues at the same rate even now that I work from home (which is relevant because I use my earbuds for far fewer hours a day and they also spend much less time being knocked around in my purse.)

The Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter that I use to connect my external monitor to my computer wears out every couple of years. First the image doesn't always appear on the external monitor when I close the computer lid (I have to open the lid to get to the power button), then it starts taking multiple unplugs and replugs for the image to show up on the external monitor, then the monitor starts blinking out at random times, and finally it does this weird thing where the whole computer freezes when I try to switch to the monitor.  Then I get a new adapter, and everything goes back to normal.

I had the same problem with the cable that connected my cellphone to my computer, back when such a thing was possible. It would just stop working every few months.

Why does this happen?  These things are basically just plugs and wires. What exactly would cause them to stop functioning?

And why doesn't it happen with things like kettles and toasters and lamps, which also have plugs and wires?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Things They Should Invent: plane crash edition

Reading this article about people who want to take their luggage with them when evacuating plane crashes gives me ideas for a couple of inventions.

1. Public awareness of what happens to plane crash survivors

When later asked to explain their actions, most passengers cited a desire to rescue their money, wallets or credit cards. 
You can see how a person would get there. The idea of being stuck somewhere, maybe in a foreign country, without money, ID or credit cards is scary. So they need a public awareness campaign of what measures are in place to help plane crash survivors in the immediate aftermath and days following. How do they get the medical care they need without their health card or insurance information? What's their legal status if they're in a foreign country but have lost their passport in the plane crash? How do they get home without money or credit cards, and how do they get food and shelter and replacement clothing in the interim? How do they get back into their home country without ID?

There have been enough plane crashes over the years that it seems like there should be a protocol in place for these things. If there is, they should let us know how it works. If there isn't, they should make one and then let us know how it works.

2. Fireproof luggage

The motivation for wanting to take your carry-on bag when evacuating an airplane is that you don't want to lose the contents. Even if insurance gives you money to replace it, you can't just go and buy the teddy bear who's been with you since you were a baby or the discontinued underwear you haven't yet found a comfortable replacement for.

But imagine if the bag was fireproof. You leave it behind, the inferno burns around it, and after the fire has been put out everyone's luggage can be retrieved. You're deprived of your essentials for a few hours, not for the whole rest of your life.

There are fireproof/fire-resistant materials used for firefighters' and astronauts' protective gear, and I'm sure there are other fireproof things in the world of which I'm not even aware. Perhaps that would be a good starting point.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Emotional labour braindump

I've recently been reading this epic MetaFilter thread about emotional labour, and it's been very educational and made me realize quite a number of things, some of which I'm braindumping here and others of which will need to be their own posts.

The thread uses a very broad definition of emotional labour, and I find that broad definition useful so I'm using it too. Things that are perhaps on the periphery of the scope of emotional labour (like housework) are actually things that I have the same relationship with as I do with things that are universally agreed upon as emotional labour, so if it's in my blog post, it counts!

- I am terrible at emotional labour and, at the same time, I greatly value it in others. My absolute relationship fantasy is someone who would take care of 100% of the emotional labour in the relationship. I'd gladly do literally everything else in exchange for emotional labour. But, obviously, that would never work out. Even if it could work as an emotional dynamic, someone who is that giving and awesome could do way better than me.

- The specific way in that I'm bad at emotional labour is that I don't see the opportunities. My brain just doesn't make the necessary connections. I'm the person sitting at the table not realizing people have started clearing the table until it's too late for me to help. At a family gathering where everyone but me was helping clean up, I could see that I should be doing something helpful, but didn't see what to do. So, being the mature and competent adult I am, I asked my mother. She stopped what she was doing, looked around, and told me to put empty pop cans in the recycling and empty disposable cups in the garbage. I literally did not see that a task that needs doing is putting the garbage in the garbage!

- I want to be better at emotional labour because it's something I want to be able to do for people I care about. (And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that my poor emotional labour skills are the reason why I'm unmarriageable.) But when I try to do it proactively, I just end up doing things that aren't helpful and are probably intrusive or disruptive and people are staring at me like WTF are you doing?  Best case, they say thank you to close the matter but don't actually mean it.

- However, the fact that I'm terrible at emotional labour also means I don't get stuck doing it for people I don't care about. I don't get sucked into keeping up appearances or organizing office social events or playing cruise director or who knows what else because I simply can't see what might hypothetically need to be done, the same way I couldn't see the garbage that needed to be put in the garbage.

- I've been wondering over the years why I don't really end up with users or emotional vampires in my life, and I think this might be why - I literally can't give them what they need!

- One of the kinds of emotional labour described in the thread that I actually do is sending greeting cards. But I don't do it for the right reasons. I don't do it because the recipients will appreciate it - I can't tell whether or not they actually appreciate it. I do it because it's the sort of thing I appreciate - I love getting mail! I'm doing unto others, but, as I've mentioned before, my Do Unto Others often doesn't work. I can't figure out how to do the actual emotional labour, so I'm doing a simulacrum of it.

- This also made me realize that emotional labour is one of the reasons why I'm So Done with people who are politically incompatible. It's a combination of the labour I have to do and the labour that they're failing to do. When they start advocating for policies that hurt people, I have to decide whether to speak up (and make the conversation less pleasant) or let it slide (and leave them with the impression that their position is objectively okay and that I think their position is okay). I have to read whether they are a person who can be swayed with information or whether they'll just take that as an invitation to argue. And I have to do the work of changing the subject to something that would be pleasant for everyone to talk about, despite the politically incompatible person's efforts to stay on their chosen topic. And this is because they're not doing the work of finding and sticking to topics that everyone would enjoy discussing. There are people who don't think politics should make a difference in social interactions and would say that you shouldn't let politics stand in the way getting to know someone who could be an awesome person, but I already have plenty of awesome people in my life who don't require that work.

- Most of what I dislike about being single is the absence of a certain individual, not the absence of a theoretical partner. But the one exception is I dislike not having a default person. When I need a person, I have to ask around and find someone who is willing to go out of their way for me. My people are awesome so I've never not found a person (and I'd say about 80% of the time the first person I ask says yes), but I still have to ask. Can you walk with me to the subway and let me text you when I get home? (Whereas if I had a partner they would be coming home with me.) Can you come over here whenever you have a moment and help me move the thing I can't lift myself? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just ask them the grab the other end of this.) Can you buy me that one thing I need for my phobias but can't buy myself because of my phobias? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just add it to the shopping list next time they're doing errands.)  I always have to ask.  So, as I read about emotional labour, I realize that maybe I wouldn't have to ask when I need a person if I knew how to be a person well enough to do the emotional labour so my partner wouldn't have to ask.

But, despite this realization, I can't just fake it like I did with Entitlement, because the whole problem is I don't see the things that need doing.

However, despite all that, emotional labour is not something I want to learn to so do I can make people like me. It's something I want to learn to to for people who already like me for the person I already am.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books read in July 2016


1. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
2. The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time by Jonathan Kozol
3. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
4. Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-sung, translated by Shirley Lee


1. Calculated in Death
2. Thankless in Death
3. Taken in Death
4. Concealed in Death
5. Festive in Death

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The age when you stop being intrinsically interesting

I was looking at this 30-second YouTube video of a toddler ring bearer who was reluctant to walk all the way to the altar and his innovative way of solving that problem:

Some of the comments were to the effect of "What do you expect choosing such a little kid to be your ring bearer?" as though the wedding couple is disappointed that they didn't get flawless textbook ring bearing.

My extended family is currently full of weddings and toddlers, and extrapolating from this I realize that they didn't choose that kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted flawless textbook ring bearing.  The chose the kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted to see what would happen if they put him in a little suit and gave him a ring pillow and told him to walk down the aisle.  Maybe he'd do something cute or interesting - and he did!

When children are very small, they are intrinsically interesting that way, at least to people who care about them.  It's interesting to see what they'll do in a new situation, how they'll react to new input, etc. That's why friends and family members and co-workers will hand their new baby to my childfree self - to see how we react to each other. That's why adults like to show small children animals and toys and mirrors and bubbles - to see what they do.

And then there must be some age, I'm not sure exactly how old, when a kid's reactions stop being intrinsically interesting, and the adults want them to sit down and be quiet, and they'd get in trouble for throwing the ring pillow.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Interpersonal interaction of the day

As I've mentioned before, one of the many things I dislike about myself is that I'm not (and can't seem to get) knowledgeable enough about how to treat people with disabilities. (At this point, some people will say "Like a person." This doesn't help for reasons that I will get into momentarily.)  I can't always tell when they need help or when they've got this. I can't tell when to offer help or when to wait to be asked. If the lady in the wheelchair drops something, can she pick it up herself or does she need help? When giving directions to someone who's using a white cane but wearing glasses, can I point or give visual cues (e.g. turn left at the big green sign?)

When I do my best, I sometimes fuck up, like the time I eagerly scurried to open a door for a lady with a cane and almost caused her to fall down, because she needed to hold onto the door handle for support. 

When I try to educate myself, I just end up feeling even less certain. For example, I saw some kind of awareness campaign saying that some people who use wheelchairs can walk. So when I overhear the couple in the wheelchairs saying "There it is on the top shelf," should I interrupt and offer to grab it for them, or can they get it themselves?  How do I tell?

I don't want to make people with disabilities do the extra work of having to ask for help, or do the extra work of having their day and train of thought interrupted to fend off unnecessary offers of help. And I hate the fact that I'm not good enough at being a person to tell, and thereby impose extra work on people for whom the simple act of going to the grocery store is more work than it is for me.

So with all this as background, I had an extremely interesting interaction in the grocery store today.  Behind me in line was an older lady in wheelchair who spoke broken English with a thick accent.  As I'm telling the cashier that yes I would like bags and try to balance the weight if you can and I have coupons and air miles, I see out of the corner of my eye that the lady in the wheelchair has dropped a bag.

Before I'd even had time to mentally debate whether I should retrieve it for her or see if she can get it for herself, she snaps her fingers and says "Hey!" to me. When I turn to look at her, she points to the bag that fell and says "Get that for me?" I promptly pick it up for her, she says thank you, and I go back to dealing with the cashier.  Shortly afterwards the bag falls again, she snaps her fingers, says "Hey!" to get my attention, and points to the bag again.  I retrieve it with a joke about how it really doesn't want to go home with her, we laugh, and I finish my transaction.

If I'd been reading this story in someone else's blog, the lady's actions would have sounded imperious and arrogant to me. But the dynamic IRL was that she was answering my unasked questions about what I should do (and thereby attending to my emotional needs). Her immediate reaction (rather than waiting to see if I'd react) and clear call for my attention spared me the debate about whether to get involved, so I had the positive feelings that come with helping the lady in the wheelchair rather than the uncertain feelings that I usually have in this situation.

Of course, I'm sure a huge part of the reason why this lady didn't sound imperious and arrogant was that I held all the privilege in the situation. It could very likely have read differently if I'd been young enough that she held the age privilege, or if she'd been white and I'd been non-white, or if she'd spoken the same generic Canadian English as I do, or perhaps even if she'd been male.

But, somehow, she read the convergence of factors right and managed, even in this unconventional way, to give me the information I needed and facilitate the interaction so we both left with our goals achieved.

Of course, none of this should be necessary. In an ideal world, I'd know how to be a person well enough that I wouldn't have to look to the less privileged person in the interaction for guidance. But since the reality of this specific situation is that my incompetent self was the person we were stuck with, I admire and laud this lady for handling the situation with such aplomb. It doesn't sound like something that should work, but it worked beautifully!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Brilliant Ideas that will Never Work: murder-proof knife

While writing my previous blog post, I came up with an idea for a knife that can't be used as a murder weapon.

If the blade of the knife touches something that is approximately 37 degrees celsius (i.e. the temperature of the human body), the blade retracts, making it impossible to use it to cut or stab anything.

We already have thermometers with protruding metal probes that detect the temperature of the thing they're touching (e.g. meat thermometers). We already have switches that switch on and off when the thermometer they're attached to crosses a certain threshold (i.e. thermostats). We already have knives with blades that retract. So combine all this technology to make a knife whose blade retracts when it touches something at a temperature near 37 degrees.

Food shouldn't be near 37 degrees, at least not for any significant amount of time.  It should either be stored below 4 degrees or cooked above 60 degrees. If the food you're trying to prepare is 37 degrees, it needs to be either heated up or cooled down.

If you're using the knife for something other than food preparation, the thing you're cutting is probably room temperature.  Room temperature is about 20 degrees, and 37 degrees is uncomfortably hot for ambient temperature. If the ambient temperature is 37 degrees, you really should move to somewhere cooler before you get heatstroke.

I don't deny the possibility that there might be some specialized activities beyond the scope of my imagination that legitimately require the use of a knife at 37 degrees celsius. And they can use a specialized, non-murder-proof knife for those specialized activities. But for ordinary household use, knives could be made murder-proof.