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 soup├žon 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