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?