Monday, July 31, 2017

Books read in July 2017


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


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!