Thursday, November 30, 2017

Books read in November 2017

New:

1. À la recherche du bout du monde by Michel Noël
2. The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

Reread:

1. Promises in Death

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Stuff You've Already Tried filter

On my old computer, I had to do a clean reinstall of Firefox. A couple of issues subsequently cropped up, and when I googled around the new issues, I kept finding advice to do a clean reinstall. That's what caused the issues in the first place!  (With the combination of the new computer and the new version of Firefox, the issues are now moot.)

When my old computer died, it simply wouldn't power up. Pressing the power button had exactly the same result as not pressing the power button. The troubleshooting of first resort in this case is a power reset: unplug the computer, remove the battery, hold down the power button for about 30 seconds to drain any residual electrical charge, then plug in the power adapter only and try again.

I tried that several times, and it didn't work.

And my attempts to google for the next steps in troubleshooting were stymied by interference from instructions for a power reset. I found a single reference to replacing the CMOS battery (haven't tried that yet because the age of the computer and the low likelihood of success made me prioritize getting a new computer), but, even with my advanced google-fu (and trying other search engines as well), I couldn't get away from the pervasive suggestion of a power reset to the rest of whatever the appropriate troubleshooting protocol would be.

Our internet usage patterns are increasingly being spied on. Couldn't they at least make use of this data to give us the option of filtering out the stuff we've already tried.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The final score in the laptop battery management match-up

I bought my laptop in December 2010, and started indiscriminately plugging it in whenever possible, without regard for any battery management strategy. The battery stopped working in April 2013, for a total of 2 years and 4 months.

Then I started putting the laptop in airplane mode whenever it was plugged in, and completely draining and recharging the battery on the rare occasions when I needed to work from battery. The laptop lived until November 2017, for a total of 4 years and 7 months.

Shortly before the laptop died, the battery status said something to the effect that my battery wasn't working at top performance and it was time to get a new one, although I could keep using this one for as long as it lasted. (I don't have the exact message.) It didn't display this message before the previous battery suddenly stopped working. (I noticed there was a problem because the battery light was suddenly blinking orange.) I currently don't know whether the battery had anything to do with why the laptop stopped working.

Therefore, based on my one-person study, airplane mode is better for laptop batteries (at least the kinds of batteries computers used in 2010) than leaving it plugged in indiscriminately.

Note that this is the exact opposite of what all Dell online support said, but consistent with what every in-person tech said.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

More benefits of using mitigative language when editing

Seen on Twitter: this thread about using mitigative language rather than assertive language in the editing process:





In addition to the excellent points here about face, a few things occurred to me specifically about the nature of editing/revision in translation. (They may also apply to unilingual editing, but my experience in that area is far more limited.)

1. Some edits are objective and some edits are subjective

"This word is spelled wrong" is objective. "The alliteration in this sentence sounds silly" is subjective. By using mitigative language for subjective edits, you're making it clear that your objective edits are objectively necessary - and thereby increasing their credibility. If you're too aggressive about your subjective edits, you come across as someone who makes mostly arbitrary changes.

2. Sometimes the editor-as-reader's thoughts and feelings are what's relevant

In translation school, they taught us that if one reader gets a certain impression from a text, others will as well.  This also applies to the editor as they are reading the text. If the editor says something like "I initially thought the word "drink" was a noun, not a verb, and got very confused," or "I felt like the author was speaking to me condescendingly here," what is relevant is that the editor-as-reader had that reaction. What caused that reaction? Can we - and should we - eliminate the cause of that reaction? Which brings us to...

3. We don't want to get caught up in debating the objective truth at the expense of subjective improvements

I can best illustrate this with a story about user-testing a website design.

My task was to find a specific widget and put it in the cart as though I was going to buy it.  I first skimmed the website for something to click on that said "Widgets", but didn't find anything.  Ultimately, it took me four tries to find the right route.

During the fourth try, I scrolled down further than previously to see the bottom of the sidebar menu, and discovered that there was in fact a button that said "Widgets". However, there was a banner-like design element above that set of buttons that led me to think there wouldn't be any more relevant information below.

So my feedback was: "I was looking for something to click on that said "Widgets", and didn't see anything.  I didn't scroll down as far as the rectangular buttons because I got the impression that the banner above them was a placeholder and I didn't think there'd be any buttons below it. To fix this, I would suggest deleting the banner entirely. If that's not possible, perhaps consider moving it it below the buttons so the presence of the buttons is readily apparent."

Quite mitigative, not at all assertive, and effective feedback. The banner was promptly removed in response.

But imagine if I'd been assertive and non-mitigative, as though my perception were the objective truth.

Me: "There isn't anything that says Widgets."
Website designer: "Yes there is. See?"

I'd be wrong - there was a Widgets button. And because I'm outright wrong, the website designer's gut instinct would be to prove that I'm wrong and disregard my feedback on the grounds that I clearly don't know what I'm talking about.

Similarly, in the example given in #2 above, if, instead of "I felt like the author was speaking to me condescendingly here," you assertively say "This is too condescending," the author's visceral reaction could be "No, it's not condescending at all."  And then you're caught up in arguing over whether it's condescending, rather than determining (and, if necessary, fixing) what gave you that impression.


Your goal in editing and/or revising is not to win, but to make the text as good as possible. Conveying the nuances of your response to the text helps achieve that goal. Trying to be assertive takes the focus away from that goal.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to make your children feel that you love them unconditionally

I've recently seen quite a number of pieces of advice suggesting that making sure your children know you love them unconditionally is parenting panacea. I've seen it mentioned as a way to protect children from predators, prevent children from growing up to be predators, ensure success in life and prevent all manner of ills.

I can't vouch for whether or not it's as miraculous as people say it is. But, as a child of parents who want me to believe their love for me is more unconditional than I actually think it is, I have some thoughts on how to convince your children your love for them is unconditional.

To make your children believe you love them unconditionally, you have to pay attention not only to your words and actions towards your children, but also your words and actions towards and about others.

The more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of people in certain situations or with certain characteristics, the more likely your child is to think you won't love them if they should ever end up in that situation or develop that characteristic. 

Even if you tell your child every day that you love them unconditionally, and even if you actually love them unconditionally every day, the more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of Those People, the more likely your child is to question whether you would love them if they became one of Those People.

For example, the more your preteen child hears you commenting on how disgusting it is that overweight people don't have the self-discipline to manage their weight, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them after the puberty fairy comes along and gives them a body that's prone to plumpness.

The more your child hears you saying that unemployed people are lazy ungrateful bums who deserve to starve if they don't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them if they should ever struggle to find work.

And it's not just the things you say to your child that you need to be careful of. You also need to be careful of the things you say in their presence - conversations with other adults when your child is in the room, or things you post on the internet now that your child might read when they're older. (Don't you aspire for your child to grow up to be savvy enough to track down things people posted on the internet decades earlier? And don't you aspire for your child to be interested enough in your opinions and in you as a person to look you up?)


"Surely you're not saying that I have to express unconditional love for every random person I might ever speak to or about within my child's sphere of awareness!"

You don't have to express unconditional love for random people for the simple reason that our baseline feeling towards random people isn't love.  Our baseline feeling towards random people is neutrality.

So what you need to do is express unconditional neutrality for the random people you speak to or about within your child's sphere of awareness.

For example, compare the following two statements:

1. "That disgusting piece of scum drove drunk and killed three people! I hope he's raped repeatedly in prison and then dies of AIDS!"
2. "I hope he's isn't ever allowed to drive again so he doesn't kill anyone else."

In the first example, the speaker veers into hatred and contempt for the drunk driver.  In the second example, the speaker still wants the drunk driver to be suffer natural consequences, but maintains baseline neutrality towards them.

Children who hear their parents lose their baseline feeling (neutrality) towards people who are in certain situations or have certain characteristics may conclude that the parents will also lose their baseline feeling (love) towards their children in similar situations. And the more they hear their parents react to different situations by losing their baseline feeling, the more likely they are to think it could happen to them.

"But my child would never do that! My child would never become one of Those People!"

I'm tempted to point out that Those People's parents most likely didn't think they'd turn out that way either, but I doubt that argument would be effective.

Instead, think about it in terms of leeway.  If you end up not being entirely successful in making your children feel you will love them unconditionally, they might still feel you'll love them functionally unconditionally if you can convince them that you wouldn't lose your baseline feeling of love in the face of things they would never actually do.

For example, if I felt it was plausible that my parents would continue to love me if I did something so bad that I went to prison, I wouldn't even question that they would continue to love me even if I were unemployed.  I would never actually do something so bad as commit a felony, so, if I felt my parents would continue to love me if I did so, that would be functionally equivalent to unconditional love.

"But some things are Very, Very Bad and as a parent I need to make that clear to my child!"

That's your decision to make as a parent. Is it more important to you that your child knows you disapprove of Those People, or that your child feels you will always love them unconditionally? Only you can decide.

Things They Should Invent (or tell us if it already works this way): ranked ballots that you can use to vote for or against

I like the idea of ranked ballots, but I'm not clear on what happens if you don't rank all the candidates. The last Toronto mayoral race had like 60ish candidates, and I certainly couldn't put that many candidates in order!  (And even if you could, they'd have to let you bring notes into the voting booth!)

The way I want ranked ballots to work is to let me rank some candidates positively, and some candidates negatively. If I think Candidate A is the best and Candidates B and C are also acceptable, and I think Candidate Z is the worst possible candidate and Candidates X and Y are also unacceptable, and I have no opinion about the other candidates, I want to be able to indicate that with my ballot.

However, as it stands, I don't know if I can do that. I don't know the ranked ballot handles the candidate I rank last compared with candidates I don't rank at all.  (In fact, I don't know if we're even allowed to not rank some of the candidates.)

What I want is either:

1) I rank Candidate Z 60 out of 60, that makes it clear that I think Candidate Z is worse than all the other candidates and the results are weighted accordingly
 or
2) I rank Candidate Z -1, and that cancels out someone else's +1 vote for Candidate Z.

You should be able to rank all the candidates positively or all the candidates negatively, or any combination thereof. 

You also should be able to vote negative only without making a positive vote, because there could be situations where it's more important to stop Candidate Z from winning than to have any specific other candidate win. 

In my ward's last city councillor race, we had the incumbent, and three invisible challengers.  I couldn't find any information whatsoever about the challengers. If, hypothetically, I had thought that the incumbent was harmful to the ward, I wouldn't have had any way of figuring out how I should vote to replace him.  But if I could either rank him last or rank him negatively, then my ballot could reflect the actual situation.

I can't propose a specific way to modify ranked ballot voting to allow for "against" votes because I don't know enough details about how they work already.  But proponents of ranked ballots should either figure out a way to do this, or, if it can already be done, publicize that fact.

Colonel Fitzwilliam

The interesting thing about Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice is he is in pretty much the same position in life as the Bennet sisters.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is charming, but he isn't an eligible suitor for Elizabeth because, as a second son, he has little fortune of his own and therefore has to marry an heiress to continue living in the style to which he is accustomed. This is why he has to be charming - all he has to offer the as-yet-theoretical heiress he needs to marry is his charms, and perhaps connections to an earldom if he finds a new-money heiress who doesn't yet have connections with nobility.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters have little fortune of their own and need to marry someone with money to continue living in the style to which they are accustomed. And they have to be charming, because all they have to offer a prospective husband is their charms, and perhaps connections with gentry if they find new-money husbands who don't yet have connections with gentry.

Now, Colonel Fitzwilliam does have his career in the military, which earns him some money. Indeed, it is more money than many people of that era have. But he still feels the need to marry an heiress because he would suffer a significant decline in quality of life if he were limited to living on his military salary.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters do have their dowries, which are more money than many people of that era have. But they still feel the need to marry well, because they would suffer a significant decline in quality of  of life if they were limited to living off their dowries after their father dies.

So despite the fact that, on the surface, a colonel has far more freedom and options than an unmarried young lady in this era, Colonel Fitzwilliam faces essentially the same challenges as the Bennet sisters if he doesn't want his quality of life to decline, and he has to perform the same emotional labour to have any hope of maintaining his quality of life.

If you think the government is going to take your guns, you should sell your guns


The first panel of this The Knight Life comic: "Whenever gun nuts think their weapons will get taken away, they buy tons more!!"

I have no idea whether people actually think this way, but, at the very least, it's a fairly common trope - the idea that American gun people think the government is going to take away their guns, and stockpile guns in response.

It occurred to me when I read this comic that stockpiling guns is the most foolish thing you can do if you fear the government is going to take your guns away.

On the day the government takes your guns away, they will take all your guns, no matter how many you have.  They wouldn't come to collect X number of guns from each person, they'd come for all the guns.  Regardless of how many guns you have at the beginning of Gun Confiscation Day, you will have zero guns at the end of the day.

Therefore, if you stockpile in advance of the government taking your guns away, you will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, plus less money than you did before you started stockpiling.  Nothing is gained, guns and money are lost.

A better way to prepare for the government taking your guns away is to sell as many of your guns as possible before the government gets there. You will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, but you will have more money than you did before.  Then, after the gun confiscation is complete, you can use that extra money to acquire more guns.

Some people might be concerned that it will be more difficult to acquire guns after Gun Confiscation Day. But stockpiling in advance won't negate that. If you stockpile, you'll come away with zero guns and less money. If you sell, you'll come away with zero guns and more money.  And it's always easier to acquire contraband with more money than with less money.

Good morning!

Here's what I'm doing today and why.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Refining the analogy for why unwanted fertility isn't part of health

I was previously trying to write an analogy about why unwanted fertility isn't part of health.  My shower gave me an idea, which still isn't as perfect as I'd like but I'm blogging for the record.

Imagine you have a big, ugly mole.  You hate it and wish it wasn't there.

However, you live in a society that thinks beauty marks are attractive.

You've made inquiries about the possibility of getting your big ugly mole removed, but you get a lot of push-back (and some doctors outright refuse to do it) because there are a lot of people in your society who put a lot of time and effort and resources and emotional drama into getting plastic surgeons to give them beauty marks.

On top of all this, your mole has all the characteristics of a cancerous mole.  Unfortunately, your society doesn't have the ability to detect cancer before it starts metastasizing so you have no way of proving or disproving that your big ugly mole is cancerous, but it does have all the characteristics.


Now, within this context, suppose you have to get surgery in the general vicinity of you big ugly mole.  You ask the doctors if they can remove the mole while they're doing surgery in that area, but they refuse.  You try to emphasize to them that you don't like the mole and don't want the mole, but they are not swayed.  You beg them to, at the very least, not prioritize saving the mole - to give you the most effective surgery without regard for whether the mole is lost, but they still take specific measures to save it despite your protests. And, perhaps, their efforts to save the mole result in a suboptimal approach to the surgery as a whole.

And when you complain about this, people tell you "He's just looking out for your health!"

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books read in October 2017

New:

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
2. Toronto Public Etiquette Guide by Dylan Reid
3. Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner
4. Dangerous Women (anthology) ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
5. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel 
6. Glass Houses by Louise Penny
7.  I Am Woman: A Native Perspective On Sociology And Feminism by Lee Maracle

Reread:

1. Strangers in Death
2. Salvation in Death
3. Ritual in Death

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel

Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel is a fantastic primer for those of us who are reading for reconciliation from an ignorant settler starting point.

In an easy and approachable style, it gives an overview that helped me get a better idea of where I am and am not ignorant - I now know far more about what I don't know, and about what else there might be to know.  It has spared me the embarrassment of several blog posts that I was vaguely considering but now know to be ignorant, and has led me to consider that various ideas I had in other areas of life might be ignorant as well.

I don't normally review books because I'm not particularly good at doing so, but this one had such a clear positive impact that I just had to share.  And I don't normally buy books, preferring instead to read from the library, but I will be buying this one so I can refer back to it as needed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will & Grace

I've been watching and enjoying the Will & Grace revival, but there's one thing I have trouble overlooking: the characters haven't evolved.  They're exactly the same people they were 11 years ago.

Real people would grow and change somewhat over 11 years.  Fictional characters who are being written for 11 years would evolve.  But Will and Grace and Jack and Karen have been in stasis.

Which is really a catch-22 for the writers. If they had somehow managed to write the characters after 11 years of evolving, they wouldn't be the characters we know and love.  But their not having evolved feels unnatural.

However, I am enjoying having new Will & Grace, so what I'm doing as a viewer is just treating these new shows as though they're syndicated reruns I haven't seen before. The cultural references are from 2017, but all of Will & Grace's cultural references have been current at some point of my cultural awareness. And the characters feel the same as always, which isn't at all incongruous if I don't think about the timeline.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

T.H.I.N.K. before you speak: let's replace "inspiring" with "informative"

A common guideline on avoiding saying assholic things is:

T.H.I.N.K before you speak: Is it:

True
Helpful
Inspiring
Necessary
Kind?

I think "inspiring" is too tall an order. There are plenty of things that should be said that are nowhere near inspirational. For example, "Excuse me, ma'am, you dropped this," and "Thank you, I appreciate it," and "I put the coffee creamer in the fridge but the sugar bowl is still on the table." For these kinds of benign statements, you can make an argument for true, helpful, necessary and kind, but they are by no stretch of the imagination inspiring.  Nevertheless, they should be said.

I think the word "inspiring" is only even in the acronym in the first place because they wanted a vowel so they could make a word. So let's replace it with a better word that starts with a vowel.

I propose informative.  One of the things we should think about before we speak is whether we're providing new information that our interlocutor doesn't already have, as opposed to being one of those assholes go goes around monopolizing the conversation and people's time by stating the obvious.

T.H.I.N.K. before you speak.  Is it:

True
Helpful
Informative
Necessary
Kind?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Books read in September 2017

New:

1. The Break by Katherena Vermette
2. Better Now: Six Big Ideas To Improve Health Care For All Canadians by Dr. Danielle Martin 

Reread:

1. Innocent in Death
2. Creation in Death

Friday, September 29, 2017

Shoes, Star Trek, and the glories of adult life

I recently got a new pair of Fluevogs, and, in addition to my usual pleasure in having a beautiful, funky pair of boots to wear, I also felt a renewed frisson of delight that I get to be a person who has a favourite shoe designer (acquired organically, not through a deliberate attempt to wear cool brands!) and a life (and paycheque) that accommodates wearing awesome shoes.

This didn't even occur to me as a possibility when I was a kid.  I wasn't into fashion not because I didn't like fashion, but because it didn't even occur to me that a person like me was allowed to even think about being into fashion. Fashion was for pretty people and cool people, which I most decidedly was not.

One thing I was into as a kid was Star Trek. And that got me bullied. The pretty people and the cool people would make my life a living hell for not being pretty and for not being cool and for being into Star Trek.

Star Trek: Discovery is the first Star Trek I've gotten to enjoy "live" - watching each episode as it comes out rather than watching the whole thing in syndicated reruns - in over 25 years. (And thank you, by the way, to Space Channel for showing Discovery on actual TV, so Canadians can enjoy our Star Trek in its traditional medium - and my preferred medium - without having to deal with streaming!)

So this has me thinking about 25 years ago, and appreciating everything that has changed in 25 years. I got to become the kind of person who has awesome shoes! I can be pretty whenever I feel inclined to make the effort. I'm not cool (although I've successfully tricked one or two people into thinking I am), but I'm in a place where my lack of coolness is irrelevant and I can love the things I love without worrying about coolness. I can watch Star Trek whenever I want without anyone giving me a hard time, and I can also tell everyone that I'm watching Star Trek and they still don't give me a hard time!

Plus, through the magic of 21st-century technology (i.e. Twitter) I can discuss Star Trek with like-minded people even if there aren't any in the room or in my social circle. I can talk to Star Trek cast members and Klingon translators (and have done so - and gotten likes replies - repeatedly!), and discuss serious themes like economics and colonialism interspersed with jokes and fannish speculation.

And I do all this from my very own condo in Toronto, which is significant because all those pretty people and cool people who bullied me aspired to leaving our small town and moving to Toronto, and, even though it didn't even occur to me at the time that a person like me was allowed to aspire to such things, I seem to have achieved it anyway.

My adolescent self would be mindblown!

I wonder if, 25 years from now, there will be elements of my life that currently don't seem like things I am even allowed to aspire to?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Two kinds of people in the world

Theory: There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point.  This leads you to conclude that they must be a more sensible person than you originally thought.
2. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point. This leads you to question whether your opinion about that point is in fact correct.

I further theorize that each of these groups of people would conclude that the other group's approach/attitude is coming from a place of self-absorption.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The first homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.

If you think about it, it's really weird that homophones became a thing in the first place!

Yes, I know, homophones tend to enter the language from different origins.  For example, "sight" comes from Old English, and "site" comes from Latin.

But someone at some point in human history was the first person to attempt to use a homophone, and at some point (may or may not have been the first attempt) the notion stuck.

It's so weird to me that the notion stuck!  If you imagine a world where there's no such thing as a homophone, it seems like homophones would be a dealbreaker - think of the confusion if words suddenly started meaning multiple unrelated things depending on context, in a universe where words have only ever had one meaning!

But for some reason it stuck. No one said "Dude, you can't call it a "site" - that sounds exactly like "sight" and everyone will get confused! We already have perfectly good words like "place" or "location". Use one of those."   (Or they did say this and went unheeded.)  And then, as time passed, even more homophones got added. (Including, in this specific example, the word "cite".)

If it hadn't already happened, no one would ever believe that something like that could happen.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Those People (but not you)

The following is a quote from Believe Me by Eddie Izzard. As usual, any typos are my own:

Which was odd, since one of her really good friends - a man she'd met in San Francisco when she was on holiday there with my father - was gay and he and his partner lived there together. I think she definitely must have known that they were gay, but somehow it didn't bother her.

I think lots of people in the world behave similarly: they can like individuals for who they are, despite the fact that they don't' necessarily agree with or approve of the bigger issues and ideas related to their sexual or gender identities. Its a strange disconnect to me -  not wanting to let facts affect your opinions - but it seems to work that way. I've been on the receiving end of this kind of thinking. I may seem more acceptable as a transgender person to some people, and they may be more accepting of me because of my charitable marathon running, and perhaps being on the telly, but they won't necessarily change their mind-set about LGBT+ people in general.

This makes me think of an odd phenomenon I've experienced over the years: people who rant and rail about "those people" (who have a certain characteristic or do a certain thing) but then don't include you in that, even though you do or might plausibly have that characteristic or do that thing.

Initially I thought they were just putting on a show of backpedalling in an attempt at being less rude. But then I had relatives whose hobby is ranting and railing about people who don't have jobs seem genuinely surprised that it never occurred to me that they would help me out if I lost my job.  They seemed to think it was glaringly obvious that of course they'd help me out if I lost my job, even though every word I've ever heard them say about unemployed people is that they're bad and wrong and lazy and unworthy of any help.

I was also once in a conversation with a small business owner who was expressing prejudice about a certain identifiable group, but then seemed genuinely surprised when I assumed they would prefer not to have clients of that identifiable group.  (And then, in an interesting feat of mental gymnastics, expressed the idea that the problem with Those People is they aren't interested in being a client of the business in question, and if they were a client of the business in question they would be One of the Good Ones.)

I don't understand how people can think this way.  And I'm not saying that in a bemoaning-lack-of-human-compassion sort of way, I'm saying I can't extrapolate from my own experience having a human brain to figure out how the human brain can do this.

If they think being unemployed is bad and wrong and means you're lazy and unworthy of help, why wouldn't they conclude that I'm bad and wrong and lazy and unworthy of help if I lose my job?  If they do conclude that but feel morally obligated to help me anyway, why would they be surprised that I wouldn't expect them to do that?  And why would they reassure me in advance that they'd help me if they think being unemployed is so bad and wrong it needs additional external disincentives?

Conversely, if they want me to be confident I'd cared for and supported if unemployed, why would they spend so much time ranting and railing about unemployed people in the presence of someone who could become unemployed at any time and historically has had difficulty getting jobs?

If the small business owner expresses prejudice against a certain identifiable group, why would they be surprised that I'd conclude they'd prefer not to have clients from that group?  If they want more clients from the group, why would they express prejudice against that group?  If they are in fact prejudiced against that group, why do they see it as a problem that members of the group are disinclined to do business there (as opposed to being indifferent or tacitly relieved)?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Books read in August 2017

New:

1. Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer edited by John Lorinc, Jane Farrow, Stephanie Chambers, Maureen FitzGerald, Tim McCaskell, Rebecka Sheffield, Tatum Taylor, Rahim Thawer & Ed Jackson
2. Nipê Wânîn by Mika Lafond

Reread:

1. Memory in Death
2. Haunted in Death
3. Believe Me
4. Born in Death

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Better advice for the LW who didn't want to disclose her surgery

While searching for another old post, I came upon this old post responding to an advice column where the letter-writer wanted to avoid disclosing the nature of her surgery to her co-workers.

In my previous blog post, I came up with a somewhat complex subterfuge approach. But upon rereading it, I came up with something much simpler that requires less subterfuge.  This is obviously now irrelevant to the LW, but here it is for any googlers.

First, the letter:
I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.

Dear LW,

If your budget permits, acquire some unflattering clothes that drape poorly and hide your figure.  Ideally do this some time before the surgery is scheduled. (It would be extra effective if the unflattering clothes were on-trend.) Start wearing the unflattering clothes as soon as possible.

Ideally, you do this long enough before the procedure that your unflattering clothes cease to be interesting or novel and just blend into the background.

Then go about life as usual, get your procedure when it's scheduled, and continue wearing your unflattering clothes for a period of time after the procedure.

Then after some time as passed (perhaps as the weather transitions into the next season) start wearing clothes that fit properly. If your pre-surgery clothes no longer fit your post-surgery body, start by transitioning from the unflattering clothes to your pre-surgery clothes, then (as you acquire them) to clothes that fit your post-surgery body. (Again, it would be extra effective if the more flattering clothes were on-trend.)


This way, the change in your body won't appear sudden, and your improved shape will appear at least partly attributable to to more flattering clothes.  If you can do both the unflattering and the flattering with trendy clothes, it will just look like the evolution of fashion.

(Another option is, if asked, to say the unflattering clothes are due to an unspecified medical situation that requires loose clothes.  I'm not sure whether this would be helpful or not.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nerdview: fire alarm edition

When there is a fire alarm in my building, the concierge announces "There is an alarm condition on the 3rd floor."

That's what his panel says, I'm sure, but that's not what's relevant to residents. A more user-friendly way to explain it to us would be "A smoke detector has gone off" or "The fire alarm has been pulled."  Or if you don't know, even just "The fire alarm has gone off on the 3rd floor" would be clear and idiomatic. All we want to know at this point is whether it's near us.

Then once the fire department gets here and makes sure everything's fine, he announces "The alarm has been reset to normal condition."

Again, I'm sure that's what his panel says. But that's not what's relevant to residents.  A more user-friendly announcement would be "There is no emergency, the alarm is over, you can all return to your apartments." 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Conspiracy theory conspiracy theory

I think internet conspiracy theories either are, or are being used as, trial balloons by the powers that be.  The powers that be are observing the public's response to the various conspiracy theories, and if enough of the population believes a particular theory, the powers that be will use it next time they want to cover something up.


For example, I've heard conspiracy theories that various massacres didn't actually happen, alleging that the powers that be hired actors to pretend to be victims of the massacre.  Of course, that's ridiculous because if the powers that be wanted people to believe there had been a massacre, they would achieve that by killing a bunch of people. That's far more feasible and efficient than faking a massacre!

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that the next time the powers that be want to cover up a massacre, they'll "leak" "evidence" that it was just faked with actors.


Another weird conspiracy theory is the sovereign citizen movement, which, as far as I can tell, believes that the laws of the US have secretly been replaced by another set of laws for the purpose of enslaving everyone, but can be circumvented with the appropriate paperwork. Of course, that's ridiculous because of the powers that be wanted to enslave us all, why would they create a loophole that can be accessed with mere paperwork?

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that next time the powers that be want to let off someone who has done something so inexcusable for which there is so much evidence that the perpetrator can't possibly be found not guilty in court, they'll "leak" documents showing that the perpetrator was a sovereign citizen.


The weirdest conspiracy theory I've ever heard of (haven't actually seen this in the wild, but haven't looked too hard) is that the earth really has two suns, and the powers that be are hiding one of them for us.  Of course, that's ridiculous because what would that achieve?

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that next time the powers that be want to cover up something like a nuclear blast, they'll "leak" the idea that it was just the second sun briefly escaping.


I can't even begin to speculate on whether the powers that be are the ones coming up with all these conspiracy theories to see which ones stick, or whether they're just piggy-backing on existing online conspiracy theorists who are in it for the clicks and/or merch sales. But in either case, we'd be naive to think they aren't looking at which conspiracy theories stick and how to leverage them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Things They Should Invent: manual wifi switches on cable modems

One of my many delightful eccentricities is that I don't normally use wifi. The vast, vast, vast majority of my interneting is done on my computer at my desk, so I connect the computer to the modem by ethernet cable. I do turn on the wifi when I need it, but I figure keeping it always-on would increase the risk of someone breaking into my network without benefitting me in anyway.

However, this could become a problem if my computer dies.  Currently, the way to turn my wifi on and off is by accessing the modem through my web browser.  If my computer dies so completely that I can't persuade it to cling to life for long enough to turn my wifi on, I won't be able to get online with an alternative device.

Solution: a manual switch on cable modems that can turn the wifi on and off.  In addition to allowing you to turn on your wifi when you don't have a computer, it would also allow you to definitively turn off your wifi and thereby control access to your network - for example if you suspect someone unauthorized is using it but don't have the technical prowess to confirm, or if you're a parent who wants to keep close tabs on your kids' internet use.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Books read in July 2017

New:

1. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
2. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton
3. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
4. Red: A Haida Manga by by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
5. Akilak's Adventure by by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster
6. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
7. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder


Reread:

1. Survivor in Death
2. Origin in Death

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A pragmatic approach for law-abiding citizens

The biggest benefit of being a law-abiding citizen is credibility. If your job or your landlord or the kids' hockey team you want to coach wants a police check, you'll pass with flying colours.  If anyone is trying to dig up dirt on you, they're going to find nary a parking ticket. If you ever want to criticize anyone else's less-than-optimal behaviour, you can stand up tall, look the world in the eye, and proclaim "I am a law-abiding citizen!"

That is why the greatest threat to us law-abiding citizens is non-law-abiding authorities, in particular those whose abuse their authority in a way that causes people harm.

Many people's visceral response to this statement is "No, the greatest threat to us is criminals!"  But non-law-abiding authorities are criminals.  They can do anything to us that criminals can do. Authorities can kill us. Authorities can steal or destroy our possessions. Authorities can rape us. Authorities can cause us permanent injury.

And, on top of that, non-law-abiding authorities who abuse their power can destroy our hard-earned credibility. They can lay charges that will lead to us failing police checks, regardless of whether we're actually convicted, regardless of whether we actually did it.  Our names would get be in the paper (and therefore googleable) associated with these charges, regardless of whether we're actually convicted, regardless of whether we actually did it.  They can detain us - even if we're not found guilty, they can detain us until the trial is over - thereby preventing us from going to work and earning a living, thereby making it more difficult for us to pay our bills. This could cause us to lose our jobs, our homes, our credit rating, and our credibility in many areas of life. Ever had an employer or a creditor cheerfully give you the opportunity to correct an honest mistake because you've proven your reliability over the years?  Think they'll still do that if you've missed work or missed payments because you were in jail?

Therefore, the most pragmatic approach for law-abiding citizens is to come down hard on non-law-abiding authorities.  Give them the full force of your law-abiding, hard-working taxpayer outrage, and make this outrage known on social media and letters to the editor and messages to your elected representatives.  Call for the dismissal of those who allowed it to happen. Don't let them distract you with particulars of the case that they claim justify their failure to comply with the law.  Make it very, very clear that their failure to comply with the law is unacceptable and beyond the pale, and we will not stand idly by while such things happen.

In the specific case of Omar Khadr, this means our outrage should be focused on the non-law-abiding actions (or inactions) of authority figures that led to this whole situation. If the settlement specifically is what bothers you, focus your outrage on the non-law-abiding actions (or inactions) that led to the settlement being legally required, making it very, very clear that you will not tolerate authority figures behaving in a way that makes it necessary to spend tax dollars on these kinds of settlements, whereas if they had just abided with the law they could have saved us all this money.

It is not in our best interests as law-abiding citizens to express outrage about the fact of the settlement, because the settlement was a legal requirement. By expressing outrage about the fact of the settlement, we'd be suggesting to authorities that failing to comply with the law would be a popular decision. Whereas by expressing outrage about the non-law-abiding behaviour that made the settlement necessary, we will make it clear that complying with the law is a popular decision and failing to comply with the law is unacceptable.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Things They Should Study: under what circumstances do kids get tired faster than adults?

Toronto Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat tweeted a discussion from CityLab about whether adults should give up subway seats for children.

My first thought on reading this was of course I'd offer a seat to a kid, because standing is harder for kids. I remember very clearly that my feet got sore faster as a kid (even as old as 10-12).  My feet got sore from standing way faster than my parents' (to the extent that I think my parents didn't believe me), and my child-self's runner-clad feet got sore from standing and walking faster than my adult-self's feet do in my habitual four-inch heels. Also, in the absence of actual injury, standing and walking on feet that were already sore was more painful for me as a child than it is as an adult.

When reading responses both to Jennifer Keesmat's tweet and to the CityLab article, I saw a lot of adults saying (from an adult's perspective) that children are young and healthy and energetic, but I didn't see any kids giving their own perspective on the matter, and I think only one other commenter responded from the point of view of a child.

Someone should study this, and find out what kids are actually experiencing. The kids are able to tell us if we'd just listen!

I can't tell if my experience of my child-self's feet getting sore faster is typical.  But I do have extensive experience of adults baselessly assuming younger people are healthy and energetic. Both as a child and as a young adult, I've had older adults tell me "You're young and healthy" (with a lecturey tone and delivery suggesting that I shouldn't be tired, or I should be able to lift the heavy thing, or I shouldn't be uncomfortable) when they have absolutely zero knowledge of the state of my health. They're just assuming that that's how it should work because they believe I'm younger than them based on my superficial appearance, and they can't see any glaring health issues. And then act as though I'm Bad And Wrong when my body doesn't work the way they think it should.

I've also seen adults marvel about how energetic their children are when the kids are running around playing, but then turn around and say the kids are whiny when they get tired or hungry, as though the kids are being Bad And Wrong.  But the fact of the matter is that's just how kids' bodies work.  Yes, small children run around a lot.  But they also need to eat more frequently and sleep more frequently. (Think about how babies and preschoolers need snacks and naps.)

Maybe they also need to sit down more frequently?  Since a 6-year-old is 1/6 as old as me, maybe standing on a subway for half an hour for them is like if I had to stand on a subway for three hours?

Someone should research this, so we have credible data. Because grownups just sitting around going "Kids are young and healthy and energetic" isn't, in itself, credible data.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ideas for the Dear Prudence reader who's lying to her mother about fanfic reader counts

From a recent Dear Prudence chat:

Q. I lied to my mom ... how do I keep lying so I don’t get in trouble?: Last year, my mom was going through a rough time. She was depressed, and she came to me and said that she wanted to try her hand at writing. I write fan fiction, and my stuff is pretty good. So I created an account for her, and we published her writing as a fanfic. It didn’t do well. No follows, no favorites, no reviews. I didn’t want her to give up on her dream, so I created a few fake accounts and wrote a few reviews, followed her story. She was so happy. But then after a while she wondered why her number of readers wasn’t going up. So I showed her my page and pretended my readers were hers. I have more than a thousand readers, and she got extremely happy.
This went on for some time. She kept writing, and I kept posting her stuff. I kept writing and posting my stuff. My number of readers went higher and higher. Hers didn’t. Now she wants to get her story published. I wouldn’t mind, except she keeps mentioning the number of readers that she already has. I’m trying really hard not to panic, but I’m sure that I’m going to get caught. People are going to read it, and they’re going to tell her that it isn’t good. Then she’s going to bring up the number of fans that she thinks she already has, and they won’t believe her, then she’ll show them and the truth will come out and then she’s going to hate me and I don’t want her to hate me. How do I get out of this?

My first thought on reading this was about reader numbers and saleability. 

You say your mother thinks your readers are hers, and that you have "more than a thousand readers", which I assume means less than 2,000.

Conventional wisdom is that less than 1% of free online readers are willing to pay for a product. So even if your mother did have your over 1,000+ readers, that would mean there are no more than 20 (and likely fewer than 10) people willing to pay.

There's also the question of whether this 1,000+ represents unique readers or just hit count.  If it's hit count, at a minimum you need to divide the number by the number of chapters.  If it's a 10-chapter story, that would mean 100-200 unique readers - or, very optimistically, two people in the world willing to pay.  And that's before we even take into account people rereading the story. 

When I look up fanfic authors who have subsequently self-published (in the Jane Austen fandom), their AO3 hit counts were in the 10,000-20,000 range.  And that's self-publishing. The only fanfic I can think of that went on to getting published (i.e. by a publisher) was Fifty Shades of Grey, which, according to Fanlore had 56,000 reviews when it was taken down. Reviews, which is only a fraction of unique readers.


Even if you're unable or unwilling to disabuse your mother of the notion that your 1,000+ readers are hers, you can talk to her about how she's not even in the right order of magnitude to consider being published, with focus on how she should keep honing her craft.  (I mean, this half-assed blog of mine has about 10,000 unique readers a year, and I'm sure you'll agree that I'm nowhere near publication calibre!)

I doubt someone who can be tricked into thinking that your stats are hers could work out how to self-publish, but if she somehow did, a talk about numbers would prepare her for the possibility of no sales whatsoever.

In short, you don't have to worry about the reader count fraud coming up if she wants to publish, because even the fraudulent reader count isn't nearly high enough to make her a good bet for publishers or to guarantee any sales whatsoever.

So, either instead of or in addition to the other advice given, a chat with your mother about the proportion of free online readers that converts into sales would probably be helpful before she digs further into this publishing idea.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Journalism wanted: what are tests of the Alert Ready system testing for?

Working from home, I sometimes have the TV on during the day.  So every once in a while, I see programming get interrupted with "This is a test of the Alert Ready system!", where there program is interrupted with an intrusive beep and the screen turns red, announcing that they're testing the system.  It's similar to this youtube.

What I want to know: what are they testing for? To see if it shows up? Does someone have to look at all the TV channels to see if it's working? And is that why it takes so long?  Or is there more to it than that? What things could possibly go wrong that this test could detect?

I'd love for someone to write an article about this!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Books read in June 2017

New:

1. Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
2. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Reread:

1. Divided in Death
2. Visions in Death

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to set up your friends

 From Captain Awkward:
Hello Captain,
My distant friend Sally and I went out to dinner and she started asking me about my past relationships. I’ve known Sally for over a decade and she’s never pried into my dating life. I told Sally I wasn’t interested in dating anyways as I am looking for a job and like to online date or meet people through work. She tried to reason me out of all of this which seemed troubling.
A couple weeks ago Sally had a birthday party. She had put the event on Facebook. After our dinner, Sally texted me that her friend John saw me on the invite list and became “interested” in me. She said he might hit on me at the party ( he did not show up). This made me uncomfortable as I hate flirting with strangers. It’s odd but I’ve never even flirted with someone who’s become my boyfriend.
I also don’t trust Sally’s judgment at all. To be blunt I’ve met her friends and they aren’t horrible but they’re the “I don’t suffer fools gladly” type.
John has also been asking Sally about me. He wants to know when I’ve found a job and want to meet him. I have never indicated I want to meet John. I’m refusing, there’s something odd about a person in their late twenties being this invested in someone because of their FB profile. I rarely if ever post on FB. He is also asking me out through my friend which seems manipulative.
Do you have script suggestions?
Thanks,
– No thanks stranger ( female pronouns)

This is completely outside the scope of advice to LW, but my brain immediately responded with advice to Sally on how to set up your friends better:

Dear Sally,

The first thing to do is tell LW "My friend John saw your facebook profile and would like me to introduce the two of you." Then show John's online presence to LW so she can get to know him a bit.  If LW has any questions about John, answer them as comprehensively and truthfully as possible.  Give LW as much information as she wants.  And then, if she's interested in John after having all available information, facilitate the introduction.

Note that your job as a matchmaker is not to convince or coerce these two people into dating. Your job is to make a good match, which means setting up people who are compatible with each other.  If one person sees a reason for incompatibility, accept it and don't force them into a bad match.

And if LW just has no active interest without seeing any particular incompatibility, the best thing you can do is leave it be.  She knows that John is interested, she knows where to find him.  There's a small chance that if you leave the idea to stew for a while, she might warm to it.  But there's a large chance that if she feels too pressured, she's going to find the whole thing creepy and want nothing to do with him.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do cell phones affect smoking rates?

The following is (a tangent) from Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard. As usual, any typos are my own:

In the old days we had cigarettes, so if you wanted to hang out somewhere looking relaxed, you could just light a cigarette an lean against a lampost and smoke it. You could lean against a wall in a station, or sit in a chair or on a bench. You could hang out anywhere with a cigarette. Now most of us have given up cigarettes, but we've got our mobile phones, which we can use much in the same way: we stand somewhere or sit somewhere while doing almost anything - reading a book, sending an email, checking our texts - on our smartphones.

This makes me wonder if the rising prevalence of cell phones and smart phones and texting and apps has resulted in a decline in smoking rates?  Perhaps not the percentage of smokers in society, but perhaps the number of cigarettes smoked.

Your phone gives you something to do with your hands when you have downtime, so you might not automatically reach for a cigarette out of boredom.  It also gives you something you want to do with your hands when you have a moment, and it might be harder to light a cigarette with a phone in your hand, or harder to text with a cigarette in your hand.  (I'm sure innovative people can find a way, but it would be an additional inconvenience).

I once read a theory of addiction that to cure an addiction, you have to replace it with something else, because the patient needs . . . something.  Maybe the phone could serve as that something?

I don't know if this could be studied, because there have been numerous efforts to decrease smoking rates for public health purposes before and during the advent of the cell phone, so I don't know if you could separate the effect of cell phones from other factors.  I know that in Europe in the 90s smoking was more widespread, and I know that Europe took up texting before North America, but I have no idea what else was happening in the interim that might have affected smoking rates.

I wonder if there's somewhere in the world where people do smoke, but there haven't been anti-smoking measures, and cell phones have also become increasingly prevalent.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do politicians want people to telephone them?

Recently, a greater than usual amount of instructions for political activism has been reaching me, and a common theme seems to be to telephone politicians. The instructions are to tell the person who answers the phone that you would like the politician to take or stop taking a particular action, and tell them any personal stories that support this request.

But why on earth would the telephone be the optimal medium for political activism?

If you telephone an elected official's office, someone has to answer the call. If you tell them an anecdote, someone has to write it down.  If they have a case tracking system, the person who answers the phone has to enter their notes into the case tracking system. The whole process moves at the speed of human speech, and is subject to transcription errors on the part of the person answering the phone, and dictation errors (as well as general human error and any lack of preparedness that's borne of inexperience) on the part of the person making the call. This is especially egregious because less-experienced phone-callers have to write up a script for themselves, which they read to the phone-answerer, who transcribes it into whatever system the political office uses.

But if you send them an email, the message will reach your political official (or enter their automated system) in your own words, either by copy-paste or through an automated algorithm. No human intervention, no possibility of human error, and also no staffing expenses to deal with your inquiry. It's faster for political staff (reading is faster than typing) and might also be no less slow for the citizen if - like me - they'd have to write up a script before making a phone call, or - like me - they can type at the speed of speech anyway. There's no human error, because your very own words either reach the politico directly or are entered into the automated system. From the point of view of the politico, they can get their constituents' POV straight from the constituents' mouth, and/or get their constituents' POV without having to pay the salary of political staff who run itnerference.

So how did it come about that a telephone call is considered the most effective way to reach politicians?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

City Shoe Repair in Eglinton station has moved to 2200 Yonge St., 2nd floor

Looking for the awesome shoe repair place that, until very recently, was in Eglinton station?

They've moved to the 2nd floor of the Canada Square building at 2200 Yonge St.

If you're standing in front of their old location, go up the stairs to the southwest corner of Yonge and Eglinton, then up the next set of stairs (or the escalator) into Canada Square.

Then keep walking south through the building (parallel to Yonge, away from Eglinton). Go past the little stairs that go down to the lobby, past the elevators, and keep going. It's, on the left side (closest to Yonge St.) about three storefronts past the point where you start thinking "Did I miss it?" You can see the big red boot through the store windows. If you reach TPH The Printing House, you've gone too far.


The nice people at City Shoe Repair have saved my ass and my shoes multiple times, including when my shoes literally fell apart while I was walking down the street and when my boot wouldn't unzip leaving me stuck inside it.  So hopefully I can use my googleability to help people find them now that their new location has less foot traffic.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Childfree for Dummies: Part VI (plus: help write the analogy!)

Sometimes medical professionals insist on taking measure to protect the patient's fertility even when the patient is childfree and doesn't want to be fertile.  And sometimes, if you complain about this, people will counter with "But he's just looking out for your health."

But unwanted fertility is not part of health.

Fertility is a thing my body does that I don't want it to do, much like acid reflux or gaining weight or sweating profusely.  It has no benefit for me and adds nothing to my quality of life. On top of that, unlike acid reflux or gaining weight or sweating profusely, fertility could have the most severe negative consequences possible - both for myself and for innocent others.

Therefore, fertility is not an aspect of my health, but rather a chronic condition to be managed.  And managing it is the top priority of my life. The vast majority of the medical care I receive is in service of managing this chronic condition. If it were not possible to receive the medical care that permits me to manage this condition, I would take drastic measures - up to and including breaking the law, risking my personal health and safety, and relocating to another part of the world - to keep it under control.

So when medical professionals disregard the fact that a patient is childfree and give them treatment that preserves their fertility in cases there are also options that may reduce or even eliminate fertility, they're basically refusing to cure the chronic condition that overshadows every aspect of the patient's life.

***

I'm trying to think of an analogy for this concept, but it's not working out as well as I'd like. Here's what I've got so far.

Analogy: imagine you're a pre-op transman, and you're diagnosed with breast cancer. One possible treatment is mastectomy. This would not only eliminate the cancer and either vastly reduce (or even completely eliminate) the likelihood of its returning, and vastly reduce (or even completely eliminate) the amount of follow-up care you'd need, it would also remove the breasts that you don't even want (and, depending on their size, may cause you day-to-day discomfort).

But the doctor refuses to give you a mastectomy, and in fact says they will make every effort to save your breasts.  Because most women want to keep their breasts. When you point out the unfairness and very near cruelty of the doctor making you keep your unwanted breasts when removing them would be an effective treatment to everything that ails you, people counter with "But he's only looking out for your health!"


Of course, the problem with this analogy is it's likely ineffective to the people who need it. People who aren't able to imagine what it would be like to not want to have children ever are also likely to have difficulty imagining what it would be like to be transgender. (Unless there are transfolk who can't imagine being childfree, which would be an interesting combination of characteristics.)

Can you think of another comparable analogy that would explain the concept more effectively for the target audience?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Books read in May 2017

New:

1. The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed by Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoît Nadeau
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed
3. The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories by Michael Smith
4. What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri, MD

Reread:

1. Remember When

Thursday, May 25, 2017

In which Reitman's breaks my heart again

I blogged before about how Reitman's broke my heart by discontinuing my jeans.  Just weeks later, they've done it again.

During my chafing-induced frantic acquisition of yoga pants, I found an absolute treasure at Reitmans: cotton yoga pants with pockets, styled so that (I was able to convince myself) they looked like real pants rather than activewear.  A strategically placed seam at the front emulated (from a distance) a crease that might be ironed into a pair of dress pants, and the drawstring at the top was easily covered by my shirt.  They worked with sneakers and a hoodie, they worked with boots and my good coat, they worked with everything.

I promptly purchased two pairs and, once I realized my jeans were discontinued, started using them as my go-to casual pants.

Then, after only a couple of months of using them as my go-to pants, they got a hole in the crotch.  And when I went to buy more pairs, I discovered that they, too, have been discontinued.

This is particularly frustrating because they were barely a year old, and I had only been wearing them as my go-to for a few months. (And wearing them during the hour or two a day when I'm out of the house.) I definitely wore them for less than 300 hours in total, and quite possibly as little as 200 hours.  I definitely washed them less than 5 times, and quite possible as few as 2 times.  And yet they wore out.

If they were still commercially available, I wouldn't be complaining on the internet. I would shrug my shoulders, say "Meh, 21st-century fast fashion, what can you do?", cheerfully buy a few new pairs at whatever the price and keep wearing them forever. They're that awesome!

But the fact that they wore out after only a couple of months' regular wear means that, if I wear them regularly, I only have a couple of months before they're forever lost to me. So now I have to ration every step and every wash. Every time I decide which pants to put on, I have to think about whether today's activities are worth the wear and tear on the pair of pants I really want to wear, or whether I should wear a suboptimal pair of pants to save my favourites for later.  It's so disheartening! I think about the decades of statistical life expectancy I have left, and cringe in dread of having to keep myself properly clothed for that many decades.


And the thing is, I actively want to buy all my clothes at Reitman's and never shop anywhere else again!  I love clothes, I hate shopping, Reitman's has always been reliable for me, plus Reitman's is literally the closest clothing store to my home.  All I want is to walk into Reitman's, pick up the reliable standard pants that have always worked for me and whatever pretty tops and skirts and dresses they have this season, hand over my credit card, and be home in half an hour. I don't want to shop elsewhere, because it's more work and less predictable.

But Reitman's is making this impossible, by discontinuing the clothes that work for me and not having a comparable replacement.

If they're going to discontinue the clothes, at least make the last batch sturdy enough to last. If they're going to make them so flimsy they get holes in only a few months, just keep them in stock and I'll keep buying them!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

King Charles III (and some thoughts on cultural references)

I recently saw the movie King Charles III. The premise is that, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles ascends to the throne and causes a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign a bill into law.

The plot I could take or leave, but what made this movie particularly interesting is that it's written in a Shakespearean style, using blank verse, iambic pentameter, asides to the audience, etc. So watching it was akin to being one of Shakespeare's contemporaries watching a Shakespearean history play.  In fact, as I was watching it, I kept finding myself noticing references that would need to be footnoted if this were taught in schools centuries in the future.  But for me, they were just common knowledge with a soupçon of tabloid gossip.

It might be interesting to show this movie to students learning Shakespeare, just to give them that experience.  Anyone who can name or extrapolate from context the names of most of the people in this photo already has the necessary cultural references.

***

When I studied Shakespeare in school, the plays came in these books with extensive footnotes explaining the wordplay or cultural references that weren't part of our vernacular. The teachers said that in Shakespeare's time, everyone understood these references, with tone, delivery and connotations suggesting that if Kids Today would just be more diligent, we'd understand it too just like in the Good Old Days.

But as I watched King Charles III, I realized that those were just their modern cultural references at the time - contemporary slang, basic current events, current social media use patterns, the sort of celebrity gossip you pick up from seeing tabloid covers while waiting in line at the grocery store, etc.

Similarly, when we did an extensive unit on Greek and Roman mythology in Grade 8, the teacher said that people used to know all these references, again with tone and delivery suggesting that our lack of knowledge of these references that are apparently so crucial and vital and baseline to our culture made us somehow subpar.

But the 90s Jane Austen movies, and some subsequent reading on the concept of neo-classicism, made me realize that this whole Greco-Roman thing was basically a trend too. It was that era's equivalent of Simpsons references and/or dank memes. The flowery, wordy reference-laden Romantic-era writing style was that era's equivalent of today's dense, reference-laden hip-hop lyrics. And people were familiar with them simply because they had consumed the era's popular culture, just like how people who have seen the Marvel Thor movies starring Chris Hemsworth might pick up a thing or two about Norse mythology.


I think if our teachers had presented these aspects of the curriculum as a glimpse into the popular culture of the olden days, we would have found it much more approachable and much more interesting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Uber but for driving practice

I've blogged before about the problem of driving schools being based on the assumption that you  have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you while you practise.  And if you don't have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you, you won't get enough practice to get good enough to pass the test, unless you pay your driving instructor a significant (and prohibitive to some) amount of money to accompany you while you practise.

It occurred to me in the shower that the Uber model could fill this gap.

The client creates an Uber account indicating that they are a learning driver looking for an accompanying driver to practice with.  The car owner accepts the client as usual, arrives at the client's location as usual, and the only difference is that the client drives the car to their destination and the accompanying driver sits in the passenger seat, serving as accompanying driver.

The client would pay the car owner more money than the typical Uber fee to make up for the increased risk incurred by the car owner. (It would have to be less than the a driving instructor would typically charge for a lesson - I don't know offhand if Uber drivers would consider that sufficient compensation for increased risk.)  Uber drivers could, of course, opt out of providing driving practice, and instead provide only driving services.  I don't know how it would work for insurance, but Uber has operated (and possibly still does operate) in a questionable insurance environment and that didn't stop it.

Even if the client does supplement their practice with additional professional lessons, the Uber model could be useful by allowing the client to get driving practice whenever they have to go somewhere (which is often how it works when you already have a car and an accompanying driver in the household) rather than having to book lessons whenever they fit in the instructor's schedule. Going to work? Driving practice! Going on an errand? Driving practice!

Obviously, this model is not ideal. The ideal would be a baseline driving instruction system that works equally well for clients who have a car in their household and clients who don't have access to a car, where instructors are well-paid, well-trained and properly insured, and where quality driving instruction is reasonably affordable to all clients.

But in the meantime, this is a need. If there are people willing to serve as accompanying driver in exchange for pay, the Uber model could fill this need. And it would enable new drivers for whom practice is inaccessible to become more experienced before getting fully licensed.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The origin of mansplaining and bootstrapping?

A while back, this story circulated where a male employee and a female employee switched email signatures on their shared inbox:




My first thought was that nothing like this has ever happened to me, but in the shower today, it occurred to me that this might explain another phenomenon I've observed.

When I ask for something that's perfectly reasonable and then don't get it, older men within earshot of my complaints often respond with "Well, did you ask?"  Of course I asked. And I didn't get it. That's why I'm complaining about it.

For example, when Dell said they couldn't sell me an extended warranty as promised (which, BTW was two years ago and I'm still using the same computer - they could have gotten hundreds of dollars each year and absolute loyal out of me by extending it), I kept getting "Well, did you tell them that you'd been sent this personalized offer?  And that you had a confirmation email?"  Yes, I did. And it didn't get me what I wanted. That's why I'm complaining about it.

For as long as I can remember, I've been baffled at this "Well, did you [do the most glaringly obvious first step]?" with tone and delivery suggesting that they think this is a whole solution.

But in the shower, it occurred to me that maybe, in the world of the men who say these things to me, the most glaringly obvious first step is the whole solution?  Maybe they live in a world where all they need to say is "I have a confirmation email" and people agree with them?

I don't know how to test this, but if it is the case, I wonder if there are any other disadvantages I might be experiencing that I don't perceive?

Also, might this be part of the origin of mansplaining?  If things tend to work out for them when they try the first obvious step, they might arrive at the conclusion that someone who's having problems hasn't tried the first obvious step?

And more broadly speaking, this would probably be the root of punitive "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" policies - people in positions of greater privilege have things turn out right when they do the basic right things, so they conclude that people who have things turn out wrong aren't doing the basic right things.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

It should always work this way





Sunday, April 30, 2017

Books read in April 2017

New:

1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
2. Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb
3. Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness by Shawn Micallef
4. Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb
5. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

Reread:

1. Imitation in Death

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spotted in the wild: a person who can leave the house without a plan

I previously blogged about how baffled I am that there are apparently people who can leave the house without a plan. One of these people was seen in the wild in a recent Ask A Manager column:

I have been working at my job (a Fortune 500 company) for nine months, after I graduated college last year.

My boss and I went to a business lunch and he drank a lot. He was upset that I couldn’t drive us back to the office because I don’t have a driver’s license. He assumed I did. He didn’t tell me to drive until we were in the parking lot. I have epilepsy that makes me have seizures in my sleep. I have never had one when I an awake, but because it’s still epilepsy, I am not allowed to drive by law. I live in a large city with buses, cabs, and a subway, so I get along just fine if none of my family or friends can drive me.

I refused even though he insisted, and we had to take a cab back to the office and my boss had to take a cab back to get his company car the next day. Instead of expensing it, my boss and his boss want me to pay both cab fares. My boss said I should have told him I can’t drive. I work a desk job with no driving component and it was not mentioned in the requirements for my job. The cab fares totaled over $100 and I don’t think I should have to pay because my boss decided to get falling down drunk while he was on the clock. And even if I did have a license I wouldn’t have driven a company car without permission from someone higher than my manager. Is it okay to go to HR with something like this or is it expected I would have to pay?

The comment thread on Ask A Manager already has a lot of productive discussion on what the letter-writer should do and on the appropriateness of drinking during a business lunch, so that's probably the best venue for advice to LW on actual substantive issues.

What I'm interested in here is the boss's thought process (or lack thereof) when he left the office.

He was on his way to what he perceived as the kind of event where you get drunk.  But he just automatically assumed that someone else would be in a condition to drive him back to the office. He didn't ask, there was no history of this person driving him home, he just blindly assumed someone would take care of him.

It's mindblowing to me that someone can have been adulting long enough and well enough to become a boss without either getting in the habit of or automatically making a plan for how to get home.Why doesn't his brain do this automatically? What has his life thus far been that he's never had to think about it before, or at least hasn't had to think about it enough times that he automatically thinks about it?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to apologize to someone you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without imposing upon them

A recent Savage Love Letter of the Day contains a twitter thread on whether or not a man should apologize to a woman he only now realizes he assaulted back then.  (I can't find the original discussion - it might be from a podcast.)

I've seen this question - whether to seek out someone you've wronged in the past but are no longer in contact with so you can apologize to them - asked in various forms in various advice columns over the years, and the argument against doing so is the same every time: the wronged person may well have moved on and the apology would simply dredge up old bad feelings, with the end result being that the apologizer feels better for unloading/doing what they perceive as penance, but making the wronged person feels worse.


But today my shower gave me an idea for how to apologize to a person you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without dredging up any bad feelings.

Post an apology on your primary online presence (blog, facebook, twitter, whatever). Do not use the wronged person's name, but do include enough details that they'll recognize themselves in the apology.  Ideally the post should be public, but if you don't have it in you to make it public it should be visible to as many people as you dare.

If the wronged person ever thinks of you, they'll google you. If they care, they'll start reading through what you've posted.  And they'll find your apology and see themselves.

If the wronged person ever mentions you to a mutual acquaintance, and your post has reached the mutual acquaintance, through the natural combination of social media and gossip mill, the mutual acquaintance will tell the wronged person about the post, and the wronged person will check it out if they're interested.

If the wronged person isn't thinking about you, this won't intrude upon their lives at all.

In either case, your emotional needs are still attended to. If your emotional need is to express your remorse, it's put out there and they'll receive it if they're in a position where they're seeking out information about you. If your emotional need is for penance, you'll get it by admitting your wrongs in front of all your followers.

In short, everyone's needs are attended to, no one is imposed upon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It seems my policy oracle is alive and well, if slower

Five years ago I came up with a plan to cool the housing market.

Today they implemented it.

Ironically, this happen right after I move out of rental housing.  (Not that I care - it's still the objectively correct thing to do.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What if there was just one chain of stores selling all clothes?

When I was writing about the problem of sales commission, I realized that even with salespeople whose sole motivation was to help me find the best clothes for me, clothes shopping would still be a challenge because there are so many different clothing stores all operating in silos. The optimal pants for me could be in some indy store two neighbourhoods over, and I'd never know because it's simply unworkable to visit every single store or chain of stores and try on a reasonable share of their clothes to get an idea of how they fit.

But what if there was just one giant chain, staffed by expert salespeople incentivized on customer service rather than on sales numbers? 

This one chain will sell every single brand of clothes. They don't pick and choose which brands to carry, instead they carry every brand, at every price point.  If a brand wants to be sold in [Ontario/Canada/the world/whatever the jurisdiction covered is] it simply signs up with the store.  The brand sets its own price point, of which the store deducts a fee to cover the cost of running a store.  The store is not permitted to turn away a brand.

Store employees are trained on all the products, and can help you find things that meet your needs.  They could do clothes fitting like the people from Secrets from your Sister do bra fitting - for example, I could tell them "Reitman's Comfort Fit jeans fit me perfectly, but they've discontinued the boot cut dark wash. Can you find me a boot cut (or, barring that, true straight leg) dark wash that also fits me comfortably without gapping in the back?"  And the employee uses their expertise to find something that meets my needs without my having to try on everything in the store.

The store would also have a robust website with free shipping and a generous return policy (they can afford this because of economies of scale), so if the particular item you want isn't available in the actual store, you can order it and have it shipped straight to you.  Maybe economies of scale would also make it possible to have an in-store alterations service!

Now, at this point, you're probably thinking "But I don't want to have to go all the way out to the big-box stores to shop for clothing in some giant warehouse!"

You wouldn't have to. As the price of getting a monopoly on the clothing market, the chain of stores would have to maintain a location in every existing retail space currently used to sell clothing.  They could set up a small specialization in each space - one for office clothes targeting women in their 30s, another for men's running gear, another for toddler party dresses, etc.  Key strategic spaces could be dedicated to whatever is new, so people who have shopped recently don't have to go through everything, and smaller brands don't immediately sink into obscurity.

The data collected by having all clothing sales centralized would help improve everyone's shopping experience by matching in-store stock with what people in the neighbourhood wear most frequently.  In other words, even if my neighbour buys her awesome dress from Yorkville or Queen West or Pacific Mall, the computer will know that someone at Yonge & Eglinton bought and loves this dress.  If many people in the neighbourhod wear and love similar things, local stores will eventually start stocking similar things

Fit information could also be centralized, so maybe eventually a computer could tell me "If Shirt A drapes well on you and Shirt B drapes poorly on you, then Shirt C will drape well on you." Like Amazon's "People who bought this item also bought", they could have a "People who looked good in this item also looked good in."


I know greater competition is theoretically supposed to increase consumer choice, but, despite the fact that I'm wholly materialistic, have disposable income, and adore having nice clothes that make me feel beautiful, I find it tediously difficult to shop for clothes. More often than not, I go out with the intention of spending money on clothes and come home without having bought anything. I think if we could somehow have just one chain of stores that sells everything, with well-trained staff who are incentivized to provide excellent customer service rather than to increase sales numbers, it would be a lot easier to actually buy things when I want to buy things. Which would probably be good for the economy and the industry.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Things that are harder to clean than their counterparts

1. Glasses from Pearle Vision. There's a Pearle Vision right in my neighbourhood and they had frames I actually like for a price that's actually lower than my insurance limit (!!!) so I thought I had it made, but it turns out I have to clean the lenses more often than my previous lenses from LensCrafters. And yes, I did ask for the kind of anti-glare lenses that stay cleaner.  And they do stay cleaner than the kind of anti-glare lenses that don't stay cleaner. But nevertheless, I'm still cleaning them more than my LensCrafters lenses.

2.Glass cooktops. The stove on my new apartment has a glass cooktop, unlike every other stove I've used in my life, all of which had electric coil burners. (I have never at any point had a choice in the matter.) And it turns out the glass is impossible to keep clean. Every spill or drip creates a disaster, and while I've been able to get rid of 97% of the mess with a combination of purpose-built products and internet tips, I can never remove every trace of evidence. And even if there are no spills or drips and you just wipe it down, there are streaks left like cleaning a window.  The first time I cleaned it, it wasn't particularly dirty, but wiping it left streaks that made it look worse.  I don't recommend it to anyone, and can't fathom why my builder thought it would be a good idea.  (On top of the cleaning problems, the burners also either heat more slowly or produce less heat - haven't figured out which yet - so I have to relearn all my cooking patterns.)

3. Caesarstone counters. My new apartment has caesarstone counters, whereas the old one had granite. (Again, I didn't have a choice in the matter in either apartment.)  Everyone along the way and the entire internet told me that caesarstone is way easier to keep clean than granite, but I've found the opposite.  With granite, I spray it with a cleaner, wipe it down, and I'm done.  With caesarstone, wiping it leaves streaks so I have to sort of polish it with microfibre cloths (like cleaning glasses) after I've actually wiped the dirt off.  On top of that, the slightest mess is readily visible. If a bit of water drips on the counter and I don't clean it up right away, there's going to be a visible mark on the counter until I do clean it.  At one point early on I must have put a hot pot on the counter (I don't consciously remember doing this, but it's the only explanation) and it left behind a circle that can't be cleaned off.  This got me a scolding from my mother for not using those things people put under hot pots, but I've never had to do so before. Everywhere I've lived, I simply put pots wherever they landed naturally and they didn't hurt everything. But this caesarstone is such a hothouse orchid that one mindlessly placed pot in my first week living here caused permanent damage.

I know I'm the only person on the recorded internet saying this, but based on my first hand experiences I do not recommend caesarstone counters. Granite is far easier to care for, as is what ever that plastic-like stuff they used in the 70s is called. Caesarstone has no discernable benefit.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Boys' entrance and girls' entrance

The school in which I attended middle school was built in 1929, originally intended as a high school. It was a brick and stone building, built in an architectural style that the internet tells me is called Collegiate Gothic.

At the front of the building are two imposing-looking entrance doors.  Carved in the stone above one door are the words "Boys' Entrance".  Carved in stone above the other door are the words "Girls' Entrance."

The mystery: the school has always been co-ed.  (It's been co-ed throughout living memory, and a search of newspaper archives can find no hint that they ever changed it to co-ed.)

Each front entrance door leads to a stairwell, both of which are identical. You can go up to the second and third floor or down to the first floor. Each stairwell let out in the same hallway, about a classroom length apart.  There were no hints inside the building that it had ever been divided into two and then later merged (and the interior of the building was such that it was clear when you were entering one of the wings that had been added later etc., so I doubt they would have removed any sort of dividing wall without leaving evidence.)

The gender segregation of entrances was never enforced within living memory.  (We actually used the back doors a lot more often because they were more convenient.)  The signs were only still there because they were carved in stone and it's hard to uncarve stone.

But the mystery remains: why have gender segregated entrances leading to the exact same hallways in a co-ed school in the first place?