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?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Books read in March 2017

New:

1. We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
3. Northern Lights against POPs: Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic edited by David Leonard Downie and Terry Fenge
4. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
5. Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

Reread:

1. Portrait in Death

Things They Should Invent: outlaw commission

Originally I was writing a blog post about how commission-based compensation for various professionals involved in real estate transactions is a problem - it disincentivizes taking on first-time buyers of primary residences as clients (because we have less money to spend and need more hand-holding) and incentivizes taking on investors as clients (they have more money to spend, have less at stake because they don't actually live in the property, and are more likely to buy again soon). I was writing some half-formed ideas about whether this commission model might be encouraging sales to non-resident investors at the expense of regular people just trying to buy a home, especially first-time buyers.

But as I was writing this, I realized the problem is not limited to commission on real estate transactions.  The problem is commission on all sales.

I propose that it should be banned, and salespeople should be paid a salary instead (possibly with bonuses for excellent customer service.)

I'm not saying this from my point of view as a worker. (Although it certainly is a labour issue too!)  I'm saying this from my point of view as a consumer.

Even moderately experienced salespeople know far more about their products than I do. They know stuff like "If you can squeeze into a 10.5 in the Operetta shoe family but would prefer 11, then you're a 12 in the Miracles shoe family." or "If your primary motivation in looking at this $700 phone is that it has more storage, you should be aware that that $300 phone can accommodate an SD card."

But because they're incentivized to sell more rather than to provide excellent customer service, they might not want to share this expertise with us, and we might not know if we can trust the expertise they do share.

If salespeople weren't incentivized to sell more and instead were incentivized to best meet the customer's needs, then products that actually meet people's needs would sell better. Demand for products that meet needs would increase, demand for products that don't meet needs would decline, and the overall offer of products on the market would improve.

As consumers grow more confident that products they buy will meet their needs, they will grow less reluctant to shop. (I would buy so many more clothes if I knew they would work, and didn't have to keep trying on things that didn't work!) Insofar as there is disposable income, people will be happy to spend it. This will boost the economy, and make the market function more optimally.

If you ever buy things, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you want eliminate any consumer reluctance to shop, you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you want the market to function as it should, with demand for things that meet consumer needs and no demand for things that don't, then you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you're a company that produces excellent products and want your excellent products to outsell less-excellent products, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you're a salesperson who truly wants to use your expertise to help guide people to the right product for them and enjoy return business from happy customers, you would benefit from the elimination of commission.

Basically, unless your primary objective is to cheat, coerce and manipulate people into buying things they don't need, you would do better without commission.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The notion of prayer is weird

Within a paradigm where there is a deity who is capable of answering your prayers but does not always choose to do so, the very notion of praying doesn't make sense.

A deity, being omniscient, would already know what you want, and how badly you want it, and the arguments for giving it to you, regardless of whether you go through the motions of praying. The only scenario in which praying would make a difference is if the deity is not just, and is so insecure in its own divinity that it wants its ego stroked by people getting down on their knees and begging. But shouldn't any remotely competent deity be above that sort of thing?

***

As I was writing this, I found myself wondering if there's some correlation between capacity for religion and capacity for emotional labour.  Religion (or, at least, the subset of religion to which I have been exposed) requires not just having certain feelings, but  performing those feelings, often publicly. (Or, if not truly publicly, then at least so it can be seen by your family or your religious community or your religious leadership.)  I wonder if being able to and willing to do that that might correlate with being able to and willing to perform emotional labour?

I don't think it would be outright cause and effect (in my case, I have far more desire to perform emotional labour than to perform religion, but far less ability), but nevertheless I do wonder if it correlates.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Warning: Charmin Essentials Soft toilet paper is NOT the same as Charmin Ultra Soft

I have brand loyalty to Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper.  It is the most comfortable toilet paper I have ever experienced, so I use it all the time as a small daily luxury.

Last time I went shopping for new toilet paper, I saw this package with the great big word SOFT, so I figured it's my usual Charmin and they've changed the package as they do from time to time:

However, once I got it home, I quickly realized it isn't anywhere near the same toilet paper - it feels like sandpaper on my pampered anatomy!

It turns out Charmin Essential Soft is a rebranding of Charmin Basic - the less comfy discount brand!

Charmin Ultra Soft is still called Ultra Soft, and its packaging looks like this:


So if you're picky like me, don't be fooled by the word "soft"; the word "ultra" is important.

Mnemonic: yellow packaging = yellow flag

Saturday, March 04, 2017

What I didn't expect about living in a concierge building (#FirstWorldProblems)

I knew that one of the services a concierge provides is that if you receive a package when you're not home, the concierge will sign for the package for you.

What I didn't know is that even if you are home, the delivery person will still leave the package with the concierge.

I guess it makes sense from the delivery person's point of view - I'm sure they're on a schedule and otherwise evaluated for speed and efficiency, and they'd much rather just dump everything at the concierge desk than buzz or knock on the door of each apartment that has a package on the off chance that someone is home in the middle of the day. And I'm sure that if I asked my concierge to send a particular delivery person up to my apartment (for example, because the package is large and unwieldy) they'd do so.

It just never occurred to me that living in a concierge building would put an extra step between me and my deliveries.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"It doesn't matter as long as people can understand you"


There are people who say that it shouldn't matter whether something is written properly as long as the audience understands it.

I've heard this said about things that aren't "correct" English per the prescriptivist definition (like "ain't"), and about spelling and grammar errors, as well as things like slang and txtspeak, which aren't the focus of today's post.

I have also found myself in situations where these things make it difficult for me to understand the text. For example, if the "incorrect" English or spelling or grammar error shifts meaning, I interpret the text literally, not realizing that the person meant something else.

And sometimes in these situations where I'm having trouble understanding because I interpreted an erroneous text literally, I'm accused of being pedantic, as though I'm not understanding on purpose as a judgement of their poor writing skills, with tone and delivery hinting that I should stop being difficult and just get along and understand it like a regular person.

This makes me wonder: do people whose English skills lead to spelling/grammar/usage errors that shift meaning find it easier to understand other people with similar English skills?  Do they not see the shift in meaning, or somehow instantly see what was intended?

(In this post so far, I'm talking about people whose first language is English, although it could certainly also happen with people whose first language is not English.)

One thing I've learned in my translation career is that Anglophones and Francophones make different kinds of mistakes in French.  An Anglophone who learned French in school wouldn't confuse manger (to eat) and mangé (eaten), or ses (his/her where the noun is plural) and ces (these) on the grounds that they're completely different parts of speech, but these are among the most common mistakes Francophones make on the grounds that they're homophones.  (I was so proud of myself the day I almost sent out an email in French with an infinitive where a past participle should have been! Finally thinking in French!) 

Meanwhile, a Francophone would never say il faut que je vais (indicative , where the subjunctive il faut que j'aille is correct), but this is one of the most common mistakes Anglophones make because subjunctive isn't as intuitive for us.

A French text written by an Anglophone with poor French skills is very easy for me to understand. A French text written by a Francophone with poor French skills is perilously close to impenetrable for me.

I wonder if the same phenomenon occurs with texts written by people with similar skill levels in English, even if English is their first language. Do people who are prone to make errors in English understand error-prone English better than people who have a better handle on spelling and grammar?  If so, I wonder if they can understand error-prone English better than error-free English?

(Aside: I'm quite sure the gods of irony will have inserted a few errors of the sort that I don't usually make into this blog post.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

How Reitman's lost my loyalty and broke my heart

I have had brand loyalty to Reitmans for my entire adult life, ever since I discovered their Comfort Fit pants.  These are these only pants in the world that don't gap in the back when I sit down, which is particularly important because I have a desk job.

There were also Comfort Fit jeans, and they were a revelation!  The dark wash boot cut style not only fit comfortably, but was perhaps the single most flattering garment I've ever owned.  I look tall and toned and fierce wearing them, and feel bad-ass walking down the street!  In recent years they've been using a lower-quality denim that wears out faster (and, inconveniently, seems to wear out in the crotch first), but no biggie, I can just pop in and buy another pair of the same.

But this time, I couldn't.

There are zero boot cut comfort fit jeans, and zero dark wash.  There was a straight leg style, but it wasn't a true straight leg - the ankle was skinny and I could barely get my feet through. They looked exactly like the hideous cheap fake jeans from Biway that the kids on welfare wore in my preteen years.

Which means there are now zero jeans in the world that will fit me comfortably and make me feel good about myself.  And my old ones got a hole in the crotch, so now I don't even have the option of wearing jeans.  At all.  Ever.  An entire baseline category of clothing is unavailable to me.


***

This has been happening to me more and more often. Clothes that make me feel good about myself are taken away, and no workable replacement manifests itself. Victoria's Secret changed my underwear, and I still haven't found an alternative that's as good. Smart Set made shirts that were flattering to me, then they closed down. I normally adore Fluevog shoes, but everything this year has pointy toes and I don't think my black ankle boots are going to hold out long enough for their silhouette to evolve again. Lord and Taylor made cashmere gloves that actually fit me (even though they were a bit too delicate and I only got a year's wear out of them), but then this year they didn't make them any more.

Despite my best efforts to take care of my clothes (even my mother thinks the extent of my air-drying is ridiculous!), they're wearing out.  And I'm afraid once I lose the clothes that make me feel good about myself, I'll never be able to find a replacement and I'll never feel pretty again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Books read in February 2017

 New:

1. Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
2. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
3. Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette

Reread:

1. Reunion in Death
2. Purity in Death
3. Brotherhood in Death

Things They Almost Invented: pre-sliced frozen pizza

I previously came up with the idea of pre-sliced frozen pizza. You can't cut a frozen pizza, but a whole frozen pizza is more than one person should eat in one sitting. And pizza loses a significant amount of yumminess when you reheat it. (And single-serving mini pizzas have too much crust for the amount of toppings/too little toppings for the amount of crust.)

Today I found something that can fulfill the same function: Dr. Oetker Ristorante Ultra Thin Crust pizza.

It isn't pre-sliced, but the crust is so thin I could easily snap it in two with my bare hands! It's not as precise as cutting it in half, but it's certainly a workable way to not have to heat up the whole thing.

If you're in the market for frozen thin-crust pizza but don't want to eat the whole thing or reheat the rest later, I recommend giving it a try.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I would never think of borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour. Here's why that's a good thing.

A while back, a politician said that she moved out of Toronto because she felt it lacked community, citing as an example “I would never go next door and ask my neighbour for a cup of sugar. It just wouldn’t happen.

This led to a brief flurry of journalists attempting to borrow sugar and documenting the results, but I didn't give it much thought, until it bubbled up in my mind in the shower today and it occurred to me:

I would never, ever even consider knocking on my neighbour's door to borrow a cup of sugar, literally or metaphorically. It just wouldn't happen.

And the reason for that has absolutely nothing to do with my neighbours. And absolutely everything to do with my neighbourhood.

I chose my neighbourhood because it's easy and convenient. And part of being easy and convenient is having stores that sell and services that provide nearly everything I might ever need all within the immediate neighbourhood.  I can get a boxspring, a biopsy and a bridesmaid dress all within easy walking distance.  And, more importantly, I can get sugar - or any other foodstuff I might need - within a two-minute walk, 24/7/365.

Many urban neighbourhoods - especially high-density neighbourhoods - are like this.  There's no need to bother your neighbours because the neighbourhood infrastructure and amenities meet your needs.

That's a sign of a successful, functioning community, where people can get what they need through the normal mechanisms and infrastructure, without having to even consider imposing upon the kindness of - or being at the mercy of - those who happen to be in the vicinity.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Profiled

Last spring, I experienced thigh chafing for the first time in my life.

Due to my disproportionately long inseam and dislike of the current trend of tight pants, it turns out that on most of my pants the gusset fell below the bit at the top of my thighs that was chafing, meaning that the legs of my pants couldn't serve as a barrier to protect me against the chafing. What few pants I owned that did have a high enough gusset were made of unpleasantly rough or unbreathable material, which may have even made matters worse.

I clearly had immediate need of softer pants, and they probably needed to be more fitted so the gusset would stay right at the very top of my thighs and protect the area being chafed. But the last thing I wanted to do when every step was painful was go pants shopping!  So I went to multiple websites with generous return policies and ordered multiple pairs of yoga pants, one of each plausible pair in my usual size and one a size smaller.

Over the next few days, a wide selection of yoga pants arrived at my door. I tried them on and kept everything that worked for me.  It turned out my idea of going a size down was unnecessary (I hadn't bought new yoga pants in years and they're more fitted now than they were last time I shopped for them), so I returned everything in the smaller size and some of the things in the larger size.

Shortly after that happened, I started getting coupons and offers and recommendations for maternity wear.  I guess I triggered an algorithm somewhere - frantically shopping for yoga pants and opting for the larger size in every case is totally something a pregnant lady would do! 

This was all about nine months ago.  And now I'm getting coupons and offers and recommendations for baby things!  Even though I haven't bought yoga pants or maternity wear or anything comparable in the meantime, apparently online shopping algorithms are the kind of people who count months.

I wonder how long this will persist for? Will I be getting offers for toddler things for a few years, followed by back-to-school offers and high school graduation offers?  Will they start trying to sell me those conception monitors if I don't shop like a pregnant lady for a few years, on the grounds that my non-existent child should have a sibling?

Maybe I should use Privacy Mode when googling for baby gifts just in case...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What if different kinds of lies were like apples and oranges?

Conventional wisdom is that politicians lie.

But when we say this, we usually mean "They don't keep their electoral promises." They say they're going to do something and then they don't, or they say they aren't going to do something and then they do.

But sometimes politicians lie about objective, observable facts.  And this is a problem, because they aren't just stating objectively incorrect information, they're also using the objectively incorrect information as a basis for questionable policy.

For example, a politician says there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses in their area, and therefore libraries should be cut. However, the fact of the matter is that there are more Tim Hortonses than libraries in their area.  And even if there were more libraries than Tim Hortonses, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. And even if the ratio were a problem, perhaps the solution would be more Tim Hortonses.  And maybe the ratio is even a problem the other way - maybe there aren't enough libraries.  One possibility is that there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses but still not enough libraries (for example, if there were two libraries and one Tim Hortons, that wouldn't be enough libraries for the entire city.)

It creates a stream of hypotheticals that the people least likely to be willing or able to stay fully informed are least likely to be willing or able to follow. If you focus on debunking the clear, objective lie (more libraries than Tim Hortonses), you're implying that the problematic logic that follows (that more libraries than Tim Hortonses would be a problem, that libraries should be cut) is not a problem. If you focus on the problematic conclusions, you're implying that the false premise is accurate and failing to call out the politician for a glaring objective falsehood.

But not enough people see this lying about objective facts as a massive deal-breaker problem that needs to be immediately and drastically nipped in the bud, because we're coming from this baseline conventional wisdom that of course politicians lie.

This makes me wonder how our political discourse would be different if these different kinds of lies were completely different concepts in our language and concept system. We can, of course, describe the different kinds of lies that exist using words and phrases, like I've done above, but they're all lies.  What would happen if they were different concepts, like apples and oranges? Yes, apples and oranges have things in common (they're both round and sweet and edible, they both fall into the broader category of "fruit" in our concept system), but they're clearly different things in our concept system.

If different kinds of lies were apples and oranges, no one would say "Of course that politician is oranging, everyone knows that politicians always apple." No one would say "Why are you calling out that politician for oranging but not that other politician for appling?"  People could be aghast that the politician oranged without even having to address the conventional wisdom that politicians apple, because they're two completely different concepts.

I wonder what our political discourse would look like then?

I wonder if there are any languages where different types of lies are completely discrete concepts?  I wonder if the cultures where those languages are spoken also have the conventional wisdom that politicians lie?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Things They Should Invent: platonic meetup app for women attending events alone

Sometimes it can be logistically inconvenient to go to events alone. It can be a lot easier to go as part of a group, so you can hold each other's place in a general admission audience or keep an eye on each other if the situation turns questionable. These inconveniences are felt particularly by women, what with dealing with purses and keeping an eye on your drink and getting home safely at night.

Sometimes when I'm at a place alone and I need a buddy, I form a temporary alliance with another woman who's also there alone. I'll hold your place while you go to the bathroom, then we'll trade. Would you join me in walking back to the subway after?

But you can't just blindly assume there will be someone there to serve as a buddy when you need one. So sometimes, when I'm uncertain about going as a woman alone and I can't find someone to go with me, I end up not going.

What if there was an app for that?

I envision two parts: one that's kind of like Meetup, and one that's kind of like Grindr, but both platonic-only and women-only.

The Meetup aspect (which doesn't have to be an app - it can and should function as a website) is for people who are considering attending an event but don't want to go alone. You click on "I'm interested", you see a list of other people who are interested, and you can get in touch and make plans. (Potential safety feature: you can indicate on the website who you're going with, so the website has a record. I'm not a superfan of facebook integration, but maybe your facebook friends can see who you're going with?)

The Grindr aspect (which has to be an app because it's location-based) is for if you're already at an event and you want a buddy.  Maybe the crowd is more of a crush than you anticipated, maybe the walk back to the subway is scarier at night than it looked on Google Street View, maybe you don't dare brave those portapotties alone. You sign into the app, indicate where you are and that you're looking for a buddy, and see anyone else present who's looking for a buddy.

Of course, as with so many things in life, the challenge is the creep factor.  How do you keep out people who are just looking for single women, either for a hookup or to find vulnerable people?

The only idea I can think of initially is a nominal membership charge (like Metafilter's $5) that has to be paid by a credit card with a female name on it. But, obviously, there are problems with that. How would whoever or whatever is responsible for determining if a name is female tell that Jean Augustine is a woman but Jean Charest is a man? What about the poor girl whose parents decided to kre8tively name her Bruce? It would also marginalize people who don't have credit cards, or aren't at liberty to use credit cards for this, which would include minors. If, for whatever reason, a 15-year-old girl is going somewhere alone and feels the need to reduce the risk or difficulty of doing so, she shouldn't be shut out of a tool for doing so because she's a minor.

But if there was a way to keep the creeps out, it could be incredibly useful.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

How Google can solve the "post-truth" problem in one easy step

Google searches contain the option to refine results time posted. On the results page, click on "Tools", then click on the little drop-down arrow next to "Any time".

This means that Google maintains "last updated" metadata for the pages it crawls.  Which means that Google can sort results by date.

Google can use this power to combat the "post-truth" problem with one easy step: allow users to sort search results from oldest to newest.  That way, the very first instance of a particular combination of keywords will be right at the top.

This will make it a lot easier to see when a story or an alleged fact has been fabricated out of whole cloth, because the first result (or, at least, the first result that actually refers to the thing in question) is very recent and originates from the person making the false statement.

It would also be an incredibly useful feature to have in Google's Reverse Image Search. Often I do a reverse image search to find the origin of an image that's circulation, but the fact that even Google's relevance algorithm tends to favour novelty means I get pages and pages of results from social media. If we could easily show the oldest instances of an image first, we could quickly identify cases where someone is posting "This is what's happening right now" when really it's an image taken in a different country several years ago.

Google already has this data, as evidenced by the fact that it allows you to refine results by time posted. Any computer can sort by date. All Google has to do is put an "Oldest First" option on its interface, and everyone will be able to fact-check with a single click.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Advice for "Too Stressed For This" from Captain Awkward

Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.
Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).
Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).
Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?
Thanks bunches
Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

Dear Too Stressed For This:

Until you are comfortably settled in your new home, your excuse for skipping church will always be that you have to move.  When people ask your husband where you are, he should always answer "She couldn't make it - there's so much work to be done because we have to move in March." When people comment to your husband on your having to work, his response should be "Yeah, what with the expense of having to find a new place to live, she has to get all the hours she can." When people ask you "How are you?" your response should be "A bit stressed about finding a new place. You?"

Basically, the goal is to get out the message that you have to move and haven't found a place yet (not to mention all the work and expense). The reason for this is in some churches people help each other, and in some other churches they like to believe that they're the kind of people who help each other. On top of that, a church is a network.  There might be someone in the church who has a home for rent or knows of someone who does.  If they don't know you're going through this, they can't help you.  But if they know that you're going through this, they might help you.  (Given what you hint at about their politics they may well not be helpful people, but if they don't help you you're no worse off than you were before.)

You say that your pastor and deacon told you not to tell anyone that they plan to remove the parsonage. You don't have to tell anyone that. You just have to tell them that you have to move.  If pressed, you can say "We aren't authorized to discuss it yet - the pastor should be making an announcement soon."  Best possible outcome is that there's pressure from the congregation for the pastor to disclose, and, after they've disclosed, to take better care of your family. Worst case, the pastor is mad at your family.  But, as one of the Captain Awkward commenters mentioned, what are they going to do? Not pay your husband for his work and leave your family homeless?

Yes, you don't want to deal with these people at all. You want them to leave you alone and let you get on with your life.  But the members of this church might be a resource to help you solve your current problem. Since it's the church that created this problem, you should take full advantage of them.  Then, after you're settled in your new home, you can cut them off and/or work on finding a new church and/or work on your husband finding a new job.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Books read in January 2017

New:

1. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
2. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
3. A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh
4. The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
5. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and David Shannon 
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin 
7. Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence
 

Reread:

1. Witness in Death
2. Judgment in Death
3. Betrayal in Death
4. Interlude in Death
5. Seduction in Death

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How do people on the wrong side of the confidence gap perceive other people's abilities?

I blogged before about the notion of the confidence gap, where some people are loudly overconfident about their own abilities.

I wonder how these people who overestimate their own competence assess other people's abilities? ("Competence" is actually a better word than "abilities" for what I'm trying to express here, but the post rapidly became ridiculous with the conflation of the similar-looking and -sounding words "confidence" and " competence")

To make it easier to give examples, let's pretend that abilities can be measured in Ability Points.  Does a person who actually has 50 Ability Points but is overconfident enough to think they have 70 Ability Points perceive someone with 60 Ability Points as more competent or less competent?

Or do they equate loud overconfidence with ability, and so can't recognize that the quietly-competent person in the corner easily has at least 100 Ability Points, but the loudmouth down the hall only has 40 Ability Points on a good day?

I suppose you could also look at this from the other side: how do people with imposter syndrome perceive other people's abilities?

I can't tell you for certain that I underestimate my abilities, but both anecdotal evidence and other people's comments to my younger self suggest that I have done so in the past. (I'm too close to the present to accurately assess it.)  And during that time, I simply assumed that other people had the level of awesomeness that I myself felt subpar for lacking.  For example, I thought I had 50 Ability Points, and assumed that others had 100 Ability Points, when in fact they were within 10 Ability Points of me. (I'm too close to the situation to tell you objectively if that meant we both had ~50 Ability Points or ~100 Ability Points or some vastly different number.)

But that's when comparing myself to other translators in the realm of translation.  In other areas of life where I very clearly don't have particular expertise, if someone who is supposed to have particular expertise doesn't appear to be vastly better than I am in a way I can clearly perceive, I feel betrayed. If I'm right about something and my doctor or lawyer or realtor is wrong, I don't feel I can trust them. I have no idea if this is representative or just one of my personal neuroses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to the bringing kids to demonstrations dilemma

I've always had mixed feelings about bringing children too young to develop an independent opinion on the issues to political demonstrations.

On one hand, bringing your kid to a demonstration is modelling political participation, just like bringing your kid with you to vote. And a demonstration is also a part of regular life, like taking your kid with you grocery shopping.

But, on the other hand, participating in a demonstration (especially if you're holding a sign, chanting the chants, etc.) implies having a certain opinion on a certain issue, and some kids are simply too young to have developed an opinion.

On top of that, children tend to make for good pictures, so there's a high likelihood that kids at demonstrations will end up with a photo of them on the internet holding a sign that may or may not reflect the opinion they develop independently once they become savvy enough to do so.

So far, the best idea I've been able to think of is that kids at demonstrations shouldn't be photographed, which helps contain the issue but doesn't completely address it. (Although I have no objection to any policy that protects kids - or people of any age, really - from having their pictures posted on the internet without their informed consent.)

But the other day, my Twitter feed gave me a much better idea:

Kids participating in demonstrations must write their own signs, without any adult input about content or messaging. 

I'll allow adults transcribing the kid's message (only at the kid's request) if the kid's printing and spelling skills haven't caught up with what they want their sign to say, but the content of the sign must be entirely the kid's idea, and the kid must be permitted to use their own sign regardless of whether it's consistent with the demonstration's messaging.

Here are two delightful examples of this phenomenon that were tweeted into my feed. They can also been seen on imgur here and here.






As you can see, the kids are clearly expressing their own ideas rather than mindlessly regurgitating what the adults around them are saying. But they still get to proudly participate in the social and cultural experience of a demonstration, even if they don't have independent understanding of the issues, without expressing any ideas that they wouldn't if they had independent understanding of the issues. And, despite the fact that they're off-message, they don't take away from the message of the demonstration, and, in fact, add to its credibility by making it look like an inclusive family event.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things They Should Invent: bottled flat ginger ale

A common home remedy for an upset stomach or nausea is to drink flat ginger ale.

This is less easy than it could be, because ginger ale only comes carbonated, so you have to open it and pour it out and wait for it to go flat.

Solution: sell ginger ale that's already flat. If ginger ale can't be manufactured without first making it carbonated, then they should let it go flat before bottling it, and bottle it like water or juice or similar flat beverages.

The market for this: airlines (and, perhaps, other modes of transportation that provide food service and where people might get motion sick, like trains where you might have to sit backwards). Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to offer one of the standard home remedies for motion sickness in your standard drink selection?

Some parts of the internet suggest that flat ginger ale doesn't actually help with motion sickness, but I'm not sure that that matters. Other parts of the internet are convinced that it's panacea, so the demand does exist.  And if you're stuck in a plane for hours and fighting off airsickness with nothing but a basic drink selection to help you, wouldn't you choose the common home remedy just in case it helps? Even if it's a placebo effect, it might still bring relief, or, at a minimum, the comfort of feeling like you're doing something for your motion sickness. And if it does in fact work for some people, even if just as a placebo, all the better!