Showing posts with label a complete list of things i have seen or not seen is available in my blog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label a complete list of things i have seen or not seen is available in my blog. Show all posts

Saturday, September 17, 2016

In which I fall for a practical joke perpetrated by a baby

I'm waiting to cross a street, and this guy pushing a baby in a stroller is waiting next to me. I can't tell how old the baby is - I'd say more than 8 months but less than 2 years.

Suddenly, the baby points skyward and looks up, as though he sees something interesting.  For some reason the father doesn't respond, but I look up to see what the baby's looking at.  However, I don't see anything.  No airplanes, no balloons, no clouds, no birds sitting on a wire, nothing.

So I look back at the baby and say "What do you see?"

And he looks me in the eye and bursts out laughing.

He totally tricked me, and I totally fell for it!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Things They Should Study: do political positions correlate with attitudes towards politically-incompatible celebrities?

Sometimes the celebrities I follow on Twitter get people telling them to shut up about politics and stick to entertainment.

This is something I find difficult to understand. 

I do see why someone might not want incompatible political opinions turning up in their Twitter feed.  But what I don't understand is why you'd want to keep following someone once you know that they hold these incompatible opinions.

When someone has incompatible politics (by which I don't mean simply that I don't agree with them, but rather that I see their position as outright harmful and/or cruel) I'm not able to respect them enough to be a fan of them. I cease to be interested in their day-to-day life and thoughts, and most likely in their work as well.  Even if for some reason I do maintain interest in their work (for example, perhaps if one member of an ensemble cast for a major fandom has incompatible politics) I no longer have any desire to hear from them as an individual, just to see the finished work.

It would be interesting to study this on a broader level.  Are there any patterns of the political opinions or affiliation of people who want to continue following politically-incompatible celebrities but not hear about their politics, as compared with people who lose interest in politically-incompatible celebrities, as compared with people who can cheerfully continue following a celebrity without regard for their incompatible politics.

They could also study whether there are patterns in real-life relationships as opposed to celebrity-fan relationships, but I find the celebrity-fan relationship particularly interesting because it's unidirectional. If a parent holds political opinions you consider harmful, there's an element of "How can you bring a child into the world and then work politically to make the world a worse place?" But the celebrity has no loyalty or attachment to the individual fan and the fan adores the celebrity, so it's an interesting and unique dynamic.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Late-breaking story on the CBC

I know this has already been thoroughly commented on in many, many places, but I feel the need to post it here for the record:

The CBC's coverage of the Tragically Hip's final concert was an outstanding example of our public broadcaster meeting the needs of Canadians.

We had a need that could be met with a television broadcast.  But, at the same time, this need was not super compatible with the conventions of television broadcasting.  The format required it to be commercial-free, despite the fact that it was in prime time and had a huge number of viewers.  And it happened to be during the Olympics, for which the CBC held broadcasting rights.  It was of unpredictable duration.  The content would likely contain some swear words.  Canadians abroad needed to be able to see it just as much as Canadians at home.

And the CBC overcame all these obstacles to make it happen, prioritizing the needs of Canadians rather than bureaucratic or penny-pinching requirements or the need to put commercials in front of eyeballs.  They could just as easily (actually, far more easily) have shrugged their shoulders and said "Sorry, we're committed to the Olympics", or "Well, we have to run commercials to earn our keep," or "You can't say 'fuck' on television!" or "Broadcast only available in Canada" and we wouldn't even have noticed. But instead they stepped up, figured out a way to make it work, and served a huge number of Canadians - more than twice the number of Canadians who voted for the winning party in any election in my lifetime!

Many people noticed and appreciated this, and I hope that creates and sustains the political will to give the CBC the resources it needs to keep meeting our needs in the future, even when they don't correspond tidily with the conventions of broadcasting.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New rule: don't hold a glass door open unless your hand is on the handle

Glass door with vertical handle
Many of the doors I pass through in my day-to-day life are made of glass with a single vertical handle on the side opposite the hinge, like in the image to the right (click to embiggen).

Often, as with other kinds of doors, the person in front of me will try to hold the door for me even after they've taken their hand off the handle, by putting their hand on the glass part of the door.

The problem with that is it leaves fingerprints on the door, which some poor cleaning person will have to clean off!

Barring extenuating circumstances, cleaning fingerprints off glass is far harder than opening a door! By holding open the door with your hand on the glass, you're making a net negative contribution to other people's ease and comfort, not a net positive contribution.

Therefore, I propose that putting one's hand on the glass of the door should be considered rude, and doing so in the course of holding it open for someone who is perfectly capable of holding it open themselves should not be considered polite enough to outweigh the rudeness.

(Holding the door for someone who is genuinely unable to open the door because their hands or full or they're not strong enough or something is polite enough to outweigh the rudeness, but we should nevertheless endeavour not to touch the glass.)

And if you really feel that you would be perceived as rude if you're not seen holding the door open for someone, all you have to do is keep your hand on the handle for as long as possible as you walk through, ending with your arm stretched out all the way (and perhaps looking expectantly back), like this gentleman.

(Although the optimal way is still to be completely on the outside of the door, like this gentleman.)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The tale of the door-opening hypocrite

I was heading into my building just as two older gentlemen were heading out. Our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time, so I picked up my pace a touch so I could get there first, figuring that if I'm the one who unlocks the door, they won't have to make the choice between politeness (i.e. opening the door for me) and building security (i.e. letting me in without knowing whether I'm authorized.)  As I pass them, I hear one of the men say to the other "In the old days, girls would let you be a gentleman and open the door for them!" Meh, whatever. I don't owe him an explanation, so I just proceed as though I haven't heard him.

A couple of days latter, I'm once again heading into the building and the man who made that comment is once again heading out. This time he's accompanied by a small child, and, once again, our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time. But then the child starts running to push the wheelchair button before I get to the door. So I slow my pace a touch to let the kid get to the button first, figuring the man has already seen me unlocking the door and knowing that pressing the button will probably make the kid's day.  Then the man calls for the kid to stop, so I let myself in. To my surprise, as I'm walking past them, I hear him explaining to the kid how you shouldn't press the button if someone's coming in because you don't know if they live in the building or not.

It's interesting to me that this gentleman felt the need to either fake wanting to let me in for the benefit of his gentleman friend or to fake not wanting to let me in for the benefit of the child.  And I can't even tell which one was real and which one was fake.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Interpersonal interaction of the day

As I've mentioned before, one of the many things I dislike about myself is that I'm not (and can't seem to get) knowledgeable enough about how to treat people with disabilities. (At this point, some people will say "Like a person." This doesn't help for reasons that I will get into momentarily.)  I can't always tell when they need help or when they've got this. I can't tell when to offer help or when to wait to be asked. If the lady in the wheelchair drops something, can she pick it up herself or does she need help? When giving directions to someone who's using a white cane but wearing glasses, can I point or give visual cues (e.g. turn left at the big green sign?)

When I do my best, I sometimes fuck up, like the time I eagerly scurried to open a door for a lady with a cane and almost caused her to fall down, because she needed to hold onto the door handle for support. 

When I try to educate myself, I just end up feeling even less certain. For example, I saw some kind of awareness campaign saying that some people who use wheelchairs can walk. So when I overhear the couple in the wheelchairs saying "There it is on the top shelf," should I interrupt and offer to grab it for them, or can they get it themselves?  How do I tell?

I don't want to make people with disabilities do the extra work of having to ask for help, or do the extra work of having their day and train of thought interrupted to fend off unnecessary offers of help. And I hate the fact that I'm not good enough at being a person to tell, and thereby impose extra work on people for whom the simple act of going to the grocery store is more work than it is for me.

So with all this as background, I had an extremely interesting interaction in the grocery store today.  Behind me in line was an older lady in wheelchair who spoke broken English with a thick accent.  As I'm telling the cashier that yes I would like bags and try to balance the weight if you can and I have coupons and air miles, I see out of the corner of my eye that the lady in the wheelchair has dropped a bag.

Before I'd even had time to mentally debate whether I should retrieve it for her or see if she can get it for herself, she snaps her fingers and says "Hey!" to me. When I turn to look at her, she points to the bag that fell and says "Get that for me?" I promptly pick it up for her, she says thank you, and I go back to dealing with the cashier.  Shortly afterwards the bag falls again, she snaps her fingers, says "Hey!" to get my attention, and points to the bag again.  I retrieve it with a joke about how it really doesn't want to go home with her, we laugh, and I finish my transaction.

If I'd been reading this story in someone else's blog, the lady's actions would have sounded imperious and arrogant to me. But the dynamic IRL was that she was answering my unasked questions about what I should do (and thereby attending to my emotional needs). Her immediate reaction (rather than waiting to see if I'd react) and clear call for my attention spared me the debate about whether to get involved, so I had the positive feelings that come with helping the lady in the wheelchair rather than the uncertain feelings that I usually have in this situation.

Of course, I'm sure a huge part of the reason why this lady didn't sound imperious and arrogant was that I held all the privilege in the situation. It could very likely have read differently if I'd been young enough that she held the age privilege, or if she'd been white and I'd been non-white, or if she'd spoken the same generic Canadian English as I do, or perhaps even if she'd been male.

But, somehow, she read the convergence of factors right and managed, even in this unconventional way, to give me the information I needed and facilitate the interaction so we both left with our goals achieved.

Of course, none of this should be necessary. In an ideal world, I'd know how to be a person well enough that I wouldn't have to look to the less privileged person in the interaction for guidance. But since the reality of this specific situation is that my incompetent self was the person we were stuck with, I admire and laud this lady for handling the situation with such aplomb. It doesn't sound like something that should work, but it worked beautifully!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things I did invent!

For years and years, I've been telling the universe to invent things for me. This week I shut up and invented the things for myself!

1. Since I discovered the Toronto Fire Active Incidents page years ago, I've gotten in the habit of checking it whenever I hear a siren, just to see what's going on. However, not all sirens are the fire department.  So I was going to write a Things They Should Invent that someone should merge the Toronto Fire Calls map and the Toronto Police Calls map (as well as ambulance data, if it is available) into a single "What's that siren?" map.

Making a map isn't in my immediate skill set, but people who are smarter than I am have already turned these data streams into twitter feeds. So I made my very first twitter list, which shows all police and fire calls in near-real time (there's about a 5 minute delay). So now when I hear a siren, I just pull up my list and within moments the answer to my question will appear.

(Although if anyone is feeling ambitious or creative, I still think a map would be a better interface).

2. There was some visible sediment in the reservoir of my coffee maker.  Neither running vinegar through the machine nor rinsing it out would budge it, so I figured it needed to be scrubbed. Unfortunately, since it's only a 4-cup coffee maker, the reservoir is small enough that I can just barely get my hand in and couldn't move it around in the way I needed to to scrub the sediment. A bottle brush wasn't soft enough, and that sponge-on-a-stick thing that's like a bottle brush but with a sponge was too bulky. I thought a q-tip would be about the right size and texture, but I couldn't get my hand in properly to manipulate it the way it needed to be manipulated.

I was going to write a Things They Should Invent of extra-long q-tips for these kinds of cleaning challenges, but then I had an inspiration:

I took a cotton ball (the kind you use to remove makeup or nail polish), stuck it on the end of a fork like it's a meatball, and used that to scrub the inside of the coffee maker reservoir.  The cotton was the right texture, the fork gives it the kind of stiff support you need for scrubbing, and the fork was long enough that I could manipulate the movements of the cotton fully because my hand could be outside the reservoir. The whole thing was perfectly clean in about 20 seconds!

I've never before been able to actually make one of my Things They Should Invent, and this week I made two in one week!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Research/Journalism Wanted: what's up with the people who didn't see it coming?

This post is about the information that reaches people (including me) organically, without them making any effort to find it, as opposed to the full set of all information available.  While reading this, you may find yourself thinking "But you don't have all the information! You're just talking about the subset of information that reached you organically!" Yes, and that is exactly what this post is about.

In the wake of Brexit, my twitter feed has been showing me examples of people who voted Leave but were unaware of the consequences. I was rather surprised by this, because I was aware of those same consequences, and I haven't even been actively following the issue!  The information reached me with no effort on my part (and, in fact, despite my having mentally categorized it as To Disregard), but it didn't reach people who actually got to vote in this referendum, and would have voted differently if they'd had this information.

Someone should do research and/or journalism about these people. What did they think was going to happen? Where did they get that idea from? Were they given incorrect information, or just not given all the correct information they needed? Why didn't the information they missed reach them?

And, perhaps most importantly, how close did they the information get to reaching them? Was a friend of a friend on a social network posting the information they needed? Was it in the newspaper they read but on a boring page they just skimmed over?  Or were they nowhere near it and would have needed to drastically revamp their media consumption practices and/or voting research to have reached it.

After interviewing as many of the people who didn't see it coming as possible, the researchers/journalists should publish the results, highlighting any patterns they noticed.  This would serve two purposes: helping regular people see information consumption patterns that correlate with being less informed than one would like, and helping people who are trying to spread information or raise awareness see how to reach the people who would like to be more informed but don't even know it yet.

As a random made-up example, suppose 68% of the people who were misinformed got their incorrect information from their hairdresser. Then people would know that you should question/snopes/factcheck political information provided by your hairdresser, no matter how brilliant she is about doing your hair.  Or, suppose 68% of people who didn't get the information they wanted were two degrees of social media separation from that information. Knowing that, people might retweet links to political information that they normally wouldn't retweet because they think it's glaringly obvious.

And this isn't just a Brexit thing. Similar postmortems should be conducted for all elections, and for any other undertaking where they can find a significant number of people who didn't see it coming.  For Brexit we're hearing the morning after about the people who didn't see it coming, but the turnaround isn't always this fast. They should follow up after six months or a year, find people who didn't see it coming, and figure out why.

There's something wrong when the desired information doesn't reach people who will be voting in a referendum, even though that same information organically reached a random foreigner who is deliberately disregarding information on the issue. Investigating exactly how this happened is probably the first step to making the problem go away.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Teach me how non-employer-specific unions work

I recently received an email telling me that the drywallers' union is on strike, and this might cause  delay to my condo. (Which isn't a problem - I'm perfectly comfortable in my apartment in the interim and I sincerely hope the people working so hard to build my home get a generous settlement that helps them be comfortable too.)

Googling around the idea, I get the impression that unions in the trades work like I recently learned unions in show business do - the union isn't specific to an employer, all workers who belong to a certain category are members of the union, and the different employers pay them according to the collective agreement for reasons I don't wholly understand but nevertheless am glad work.

Since they're going on strike, I assume they're in negotiations for a new collective agreement and the negotiations have stalled.  (At least, this is the only situation I'm aware of that leads to a strike).  Which raises a question I never thought about before: who's on the other side of the negotiating table?

The unions with which I'm personally familiar are all for the employees of a single employer.  You work for that one employer, you're part of that union. You switch to another employer, you're no longer part of that union. So in collective agreement negotiations, the union is negotiating with/against the employer.

But since the drywallers and others like them (and the show business unions too) seem to represent everyone doing the same job for all different employers, who are they negotiating with/against? Is there someone who represents all the employers? A union of employers of unions?

Or is there a word for this kind of union where the workers work for many different employers, so I can google it better?  (Non-employer-specific union was fruitless, and googling around the idea of multi-employer union kept getting interference from US health insurance plans.  Also, I think Google's auto-complete feature is anti-union. But doing the same searches with DuckDuckGo just gives me even fewer Canadian results on the first page.)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Where have all the anti-chafing gels gone?

I recently had my very first experience with thigh chafing. I have no idea why it happened now or why it has never happened before, but it made every step I took an ordeal and preoccupied every aspect of my life.

I tried every solution I could think of or google up (baby powder, vaseline, moisturizer, diaper cream, antiperspirant, personal lubricant, Body Glide), and none of them provided the frictionless experience I needed to get through the day.

The remaining option I hadn't tried but had seen praised all over the internet is Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel. I was reluctant to use this because it seemed to be silicone-based, and it turned out that many of my hair problems had been caused by silicones (or, at least, had been solved by eliminating silicones) so I was wary of it as an ingredient.  But, having tried everything else and not been happy with the results, I figured it was time to risk it. So I waddled over to Shoppers Drug Mart...and couldn't find it on the shelf.  I asked the pharmacist, and she said they didn't sell it.  She added that they did used to have a similar product from Lanacane, but they didn't have it any more.

So I waddled over to Rexall, and they also didn't have the Monistat either.  They did have the Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel...but it was on clearance, suggesting that it's been discontinued!  Which is tragic, because it turns out it's the best of all the products at creating a frictionless situation between my thighs!

Monistat's Canadian website doesn't even have the Chafing Relief Gel, and the price of the product is greatly inflated on Lanacane still has the Anti-Chafing Gel on its website, but it doesn't have a separate Canadian website and its availability online seems to be petering out.  Googleable evidence suggests that they're both still readily available in the US market.

And I haven't seen any other silicone-based anti-chafing gels on the drugstore shelves.

Why is this whole category of products apparently disappeared from major chain drugstore shelves, and perhaps even have gone so far as to be discontinued?  Other products just aren't comparable!

(If you googled your way here looking for a solution for thigh chafing, the real hero turned out to be ice packs. They brought immediate relief to the physical discomfort, and a diligent icing regime promoted healing far faster than I thought humanly possible.  I went from "OMG, I'm going to have to go to the doctor" to "I wouldn't even have anything to show the doctor" in 48 hours. However, people can't always have an ice pack between their legs every single moment of every single day, and people want the option of prevent the chafing before it happens, so we need anti-chafing gels too.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If you haven't sponsored Eddie Izzard yet, now's the time!

Tomorrow is the last day of Eddie Izzard 27 marathons in 27 day challenge.

So far, he has completed 25 marathons in 26 days, after losing a day to a medical emergency.  So he decided he's going to make it up by running two marathons (84 km) tomorrow, even though he's never done a double marathon before.  And, because apparently that's not challenging enough, he then decided to up his last day's run to 90 km, in honour of South Africa's Comrades Marathon.

Eddie is scheduled to start his double marathon at 5 a.m. South African time (which is about 2 hours after I click Publish on this post), and to end 12 hour later. 

I ardently wish him all the good luck in the known universe, and sincerely hope that enough money is raised that everyone involved feels fully satisfied that this increasingly herculean undertaking was completely worthwhile.

You can follow Eddie's adventure live on BBC, Twitter, and Periscope, and donate via Sport Relief.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Eddie Izzard's latest awesomeness and lunacy

Eddie Izzard is once again attempting to run 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa to honour Nelson Mandela and raise money for Sport Relief!

Despite successfully running 43 marathons in 51 days around the UK in 2009 and raising 1.8 million pounds doing so, when he previously attempted the South Africa marathons in 2012 he almost died trying . So, naturally, he's trying again.  During the African summer.   With no days of rest.

You can follow Eddie's progress on BBC Three and Twitter and donate via Sport Relief.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Curse of Knowledge: condo edition

I recently learned about a concept called the curse of knowledge.  Wiki defines it as "a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties."

This is a problem I keep running into when dealing with the condo situation: experienced homeowners and other real estate people can't even begin to fathom how utterly ignorant I am.

I recently blogged that builders should provide manuals for new homes, clearly describing all the maintenance for which new homeowners will be responsible.  In multiple separate conversations, I've mentioned that I want this because I don't want to have something go disastrously wrong because I didn't do some kind of preventive maintenance that I was completely unaware of.

And every single homeowner I've mentioned this to has the same response: "Like what?"

That's the problem exactly. I don't know like what. I have no idea what kinds of things I'm completely unaware of. Sometimes I respond to this with the example of filters that need changing that I gave in that blog post, and people invariably respond by listing all the filters that need to be changed. (Some of which I didn't know, thereby proving the need for this information, but there's no way that the maintenance for which I'm responsible can possibly be limited exclusively to replacing filters!)

The same thing happened when I expressed surprise and dismay that my developer didn't provide a list ahead of time of what kinds of finishes you have to choose between, so I could research them and actually know what I want.  They seemed shocked that I would have to research such simple decisions ahead of time. They eventually did provide to a list of impenetrable finish names that I'd never heard of before. I passed it on to my mother who said "Don't worry, I know all of these, you don't need to research anything."  But it turned out there were other decisions I had to make, which they hadn't thought noteworthy enough for a first-time buyer to need to research.

The same thing happens when I mention that I intend to hire and inspector to do my inspections because I haven't the first clue what you might be looking for in an inspection. ("Why waste your money hiring an inspector? All you have to do is look around and see if anything is wrong!")  The same thing happens when I mention that around the time of my move and finalization of my purchase I'm scaling back my schedule, taking some time off work, and not taking on any new commitments so I can give my full and immediate attention to anything unexpected that comes up ("What could there possibly be that's unexpected? And if there is something, just handle it!")

What's extra weird about this is experienced homeowners and real estate people kept "warning" me about things that already knew about (e.g. occupancy fees, maintenance fees) or don't care about (e.g. occupancy will most likely be delayed).  But no one seems to be able to give me the information I actually want, because they can't conceptualize not having it.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Things They DID Invent: a way to get alerted to new items in the library catalogue

I previously blogged that the library should invent a way to subscribe to a particular author or series. Ideally I wanted new titles from a particular author or series to be automatically added to my holds list, but, if that's too complicated, I'd be satisfied with an email alert.

I recently discovered that, while there still isn't an email alert, the library does provide an RSS feed for search results.  This means that I can search for an author or series, add the RSS feed to my feed reader, and get a notification when there's something new available that meets those search criteria.

For example, I blogged a while ago about how the library didn't have a print copy of a book I was looking for called Down the Rabbit Hole.  So after I searched for the book and found only an ebook available, I clicked on the "Subscribe to results" link at the top right, added it to my feed reader, and proceeded with life. And when the library finally got the print version, it show up right in my feed reader as I was scrolling through the day's updates.

The obvious flaw in this approach is that not everyone uses feed readers, but tools for converting RSS feeds to email alerts do exist. (I can't vouch for any particular tool since I don't use them.)

There's also a risk of getting too many false positives - for example, getting a new item in your feed every time the library acquires an existing title in a new format or languages. This could probably be mitigated with robust use of advanced search functions, although I haven't actually experimented with this yet.

I do still think email notifications would be optimal and automatic holds would be ideal, and I'm concerned that RSS might seem opaque to less techy users, but I am glad to see that there is an existing solution to the problem of wanting to know when there's a new title from your favourite author or series, and extra pleased that it's something I can use without any changes to my normal technology use patterns.

Friday, December 25, 2015


This post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Big Bang Theory. If you follow the show but haven't been spoiled for this episode yet, I highly recommend not reading this post.


I got spoiled for last week's Big Bang Theory, so I knew going in that Sheldon and Amy were going to have "coitus", as Sheldon likes to put it.  I had some speculation about this that didn't end up getting blogged because life got in the way, but there was one thing I didn't see coming, and actually didn't realize was even possible: the writers created a situation in which the sex was actually better for both people because one party wasn't actively into it.

Mayim Bialik (who portrays Amy) has blogged about how people keep asking her "Is Sheldon good?"  But the first thing that popped into my head when I got spoiled is "Is Amy good?"

As we know, Sheldon is a finicky person with a tendency towards self-absorption. If he's half as particular about his sex as he is about his meals, it's quite possible that an inexperienced partner like Amy won't be able to meet his expectations first time around - especially if, like nerdy virgins since time immemorial, he's been getting ideas from the shadier parts of internet.  What would that do to the relationship? What would that do to Amy's self-esteem?

I was also contemplating whether the writers would hand-wave this by making them both end up being surprisingly good together. (They're intelligent people, they would have researched, if they used good sources instead of porn and happen to have certain physical compatibilities, it might just work out fine the first time.)  Then I was hoping the writers wouldn't overdo it and make it a joke that awkward nerds might be good at sex.

I was also pondering the situation from the other direction: what if they're not able to have good sex together at the outset, but the show chose to explore that?  Not every couple can always have good sex together the very first time, and the likelihood of it not going perfectly increases it when it's a first time for both. But this isn't something you often see depicted in media or fiction, so it would be an interesting approach to take. Then I was hoping that the writers wouldn't overdo it and make it a joke that awkward nerds have awkward sex, or make it cringingly horrible with Sheldon's finicky nature.

However, the Big Bang Theory writers did something that I didn't know was coming: they had Sheldon come up with the idea of having sex with Amy as her birthday present.

Normally I dislike the dynamic of a sex act being a gift and it's certainly not something I'd want in my own private life.  But, by making it a gift from Sheldon to Amy, they eliminated the problem of Sheldon's finicky nature.  He doesn't actively want sex for himself, so he doesn't have highly specific needs and preferences like he does with seating arrangements and bathroom schedules and take-out food. He's simply interested in making the experience work for Amy - kind of the sexual equivalent to accompanying your partner to a high-school reunion or something (which is quite an emotional/interpersonal milestone for Sheldon!)

The fact that Sheldon (as the person who's less enthusiastic about sex) came up with the idea of having sex on this particular occasion himself, without any pressure or suggestions from Amy or anyone else, goes a long way towards mitigating the any potential distastefulness of the "sex as a gift" dynamic.  It's also somewhat mitigated by the fact that both parties are nervous and tentative beforehand, and that we learn that the experience ultimately exceeded expectations for both of them.

Another fantastic choice by the writers and producers is that the combination of script, editing and choreography gave us no indication of exactly what sex acts they engaged in, or whether they were perfectly successful or it was a trial-and-error kind of situation. This was an excellent choice because it attends to the audience's emotional needs.  Certain people have certain feelings about certain sex acts, including feeling that certain sex acts are degrading or humiliating or other negative emotional baggage. It would probably ruin the heart and sweetness of the scene to see a likely-asexual character engaging in a sex act you consider humiliating or degrading as a birthday gift for his partner. As it stands, all we know it that Sheldon was at peak emotional generosity, both parties were nervous beforehand, and both parties were happy afterwards. And every viewer can fill in the blanks with whatever fits those criteria in their own worldview.

Despite the fact that I still think it would be helpful for sexual novices if the spectrum of media portrayals of sexuality included occasional (and sympathetic) depictions of  unsuccessful first-time sex, I think the writers did right by Sheldon and Amy.  And I hope that the physical part of their relationship can now fade into the background where they can explore it in private, much like the show did when kissing was introduced into their relationship.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Toilet plungers

I was in a Home Hardware (where I don't shop very often, because it's less convenient than many other stores), and one of the items I was looking for was Draino. (An occupational hazard of having long hair!)  I looked on the shelf with all the other household cleaning products (which is where it always is in supermarkets and drug stores), but couldn't find it.  So I asked an employee, and he took me to the very, very back of the store, where there was an assortment of drain decloggers alongside a wall of toilet plungers.

Which raises the question: why are the toilet plungers at the very, very back of the store?  The items at the very, very back tend to be those that you need the help of expert employees for (i.e. the middle-aged full-timer with half a dozen DIY renovations under their belt, not the teenager stocking the shelves), and toilet plungers don't seem to fall into that category.

So why are they at the very, very back? Walk of shame? Or are they frequently shoplifted by people trying to avoid a walk of shame?

Or are they just trying to make sure people don't think it's a poo shop?

Monday, November 02, 2015

Thoughts on rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in over 20 years

This post contains spoilers for To Kill a Mockingbird, and refers to comments that I've read about Go Set a Watchman. However, I haven't yet read Go Set a Watchman, so no spoilers for Go Set a Watchman please!

I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman (for which I'm still about #200 on the library hold list, so no spoilers please!).  I was no more than 13 years old when I last read it, which may be have been part of the anti-racism unit in Grade 9 English class or may have been part of my personal project in middle school to read classic novels (which my middle-school self defined as "old and famous").  I felt fluently literate at that age and, looking back, my adult self would have told you that my preteen self was fluently literate, but I was surprised to see a number of things that I either missed, lost, or forgot.

For example, I failed to notice that Atticus is also a politician, in that he represents Maycomb County on the state legislature. When I read the book 20 years ago, I think I interpreted "going to the legislature" as just something lawyers do from time to time, not as a whole other career.  That's actually our first clue that there are far more aspects to Atticus than To Kill a Mockingbird lets on.

I also failed to notice that Boo Radley had a father who was alive and present and an active character during the time covered by the book.  I don't remember how I previously interpreted "Mr. Radley" and the cementing of the tree hole.  But I perceived Boo Radley as a scary old man (which a creepy 30-something would have been to my preteen self), so it simply might not have occurred to me that a scary old man could even have a father.

I remembered it as having been explicitly stated as courtroom testimony that Bob Ewell raped Mayella, but it was never stated outright - it was something I read between the lines, and there's little enough stated outright that it's also totally possible he just beat her!

On the flip side, the first time through I failed to perceive that Boo Radley had killed Bob Ewell and Sheriff Tate was covering it up to protect Boo from the scrutiny of a trial. I don't specifically remember how I read it as a kid, but I'm assuming I read it literally - Boo Radley rescued Jem and Scout, and Bob Ewell did in fact fall on his knife because, like, he's a drunken simpleton.

(Interesting that my preteen self could read between the lines for incestuous rape but not for the cover-up of a murder! I think we can blame Paul Bernardo for that - this was during the time when he was loose, so rape was very much on my mind, but it had never once occurred to me that a police officer would cover up a murder.)

Another thing my preteen self wouldn't have noticed: Calpurnia grew up near Finch's Landing. Atticus says at various points that Calpurnia is "like family". With my adult self's knowledge of how the world works, it occurs to me that it's possible Calpurnia is in fact a blood relative.


I haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, but I did catch some headlines and snippets of reviews, many of which expressed dismay that Atticus was or came across as racist.  Before my reread, I figured this is realistic solely on the grounds that Scout is a small child in To Kill A Mockingbird and small children are less likely to see flaws in their parents than grown adults are.

But upon rereading, I could totally see how Atticus might get there.  There is certainly evidence of segregationist and misogynist attitudes.  They aren't outright malicious, they're more paternalism, which I didn't notice at the time because in my child-self's experience, that was simply how grownup men are.  But from an adult perspective, I can see how that attitude wouldn't stand the test of time. 

However, the thing that struck me the most about Atticus Finch is that he doesn't really want to be Atticus Finch, he just wants people to think he's Atticus Finch.

In other words, Atticus Finch the man doesn't actually want to constantly and truly live and think and do everything that a person would have to live and think and do to be Atticus Finch the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck.  But he does want people to look at him and say "There goes Atticus Finch, the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck."  The book explicitly states that he doesn't actually want to defend Tom Robinson, he's assigned the case by the person in charge of assigning defence lawyers.

Scout and the portions of Maycombe society who didn't want to see Tom hang and many real-world readers have lauded Atticus for providing Tom with a proper defence. But really all he does is point out that Tom's one arm doesn't work. While that is a crucial point, it occurs to me that a better defence may well be possible (perhaps incorporating a wider variety of evidence?), but our eight-year-old unreliable narrator wasn't able to imagine such a thing.  What if Atticus wasn't actually trying to properly defend Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to defend Tom?

Similarly, at one point Atticus sits outside Tom's jail cell at night to drive off people who are coming to lynch him.  The lynch mob comes, words are exchanged (with the involvement of Jem and Scout, who followed Atticus to see where he went), and the lynch mob leaves.  Then Atticus goes home with his kids.  Leaving Tom unprotected for the rest of the night.  Atticus says that's because the lynch mob isn't going to come back, but what if Atticus wasn't actually trying to protect Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to protect Tom?

Dirty lens: what if this performative aspect extends to his parenting?  What if he doesn't actually want to do the emotional labour involved in being a good father, he just wants to go through enough motions that he can feel "Look at me, I'm a good father!"  He lectures Scout about the need to see the world through other people's eyes, but still speaks derisively of femininity in front of her. (For example, joking that women don't serve on juries because they'd ask too many questions, to his daughter who's in the process of asking him questions.)


Based solely on the Scout we met in To Kill a Mockingbird and without having yet met 26-year-old Scout in Go Set a Watchman, I also think one possible outcome is that Scout may also come across as racist one day.  Maybe not in Go Set a Watchman, but sometime in the future, maybe when she's a senior citizen in the 21st century.  (She'd be in her 80s today.)  She comes from a place where her father was seen as heroic and/or radical for going through the motions of defending Tom Robinson. She comes from a place where it was perfectly reasonable (and, in fact, the polite option) to call people "negroes".  She comes from a place where a perfectly reasonable explanation of why a child doesn't have a lunch to eat is "He's a Cunningham." If she's not exposed to and open-minded to the evolution of society throughout her life, she could totally end up as someone's cringily racist grandmother in her dotage.

Actually, I didn't notice the inappropriateness of the "He's a Cunningham" moment the first time I read this book 20 years ago. The teacher had already expressed disapproval that Scout could read and write, which set me up for feeling that Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I don't know if I recognized the situation as "Scout is announcing in front of the whole class that the one boy doesn't have a lunch because he's poor," because of the cognitive dissonance of that happening in a situation a where Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I think I read it as "Scout is explaining a cultural nuance that neither the teacher nor I grasp."  (I also might not have recognized "a Cunningham" as a surname, because referring to people as "a [surname]" is completely outside the scope of my experience.)

But rereading that scene and realizing how unreliable our narrator was, I also find myself wondering if perhaps there was something wrong with the way Scout reads and writes, and that's why the teacher wanted Atticus to stop teaching her?  No reading or writing problems are ever explicitly mentioned, but the fact that it's assholic to announce in front of the class that this one boy has no food because his family is poor is never explicitly mentioned either.  (Various people scold Scout for doing so, but people also scold her for reading and wearing overalls and playing outdoors, so the fact that she was scolded didn't make my preteen self automatically thing it was objectively Wrong and Bad.)


Another thing I failed to notice about Scout the first time through is that she learns some social graces over the course of the book.  When Atticus and Calpurnia go to tell Tom's family that he's dead, Scout helps Aunt Alexandra keep their tea party running smoothly, so the ladies in attendance have no idea anything is wrong.  She's also able to be gracious to Boo Radley when he's in their house towards the end of the book, and, reading it as an adult, I think this is more a performance of etiquette than genuinely feeling comfortable with him.  Scout seemed to have learned performative social graces fairly quickly, which sets her up for becoming extremely skilled at them as an adult.

We'll see how many of these thoughts end up being accurate as soon as approximately 200 Torontonians finish reading Go Set a Watchman.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Post-election round-up

Campaigning that reached me:

- 1 flyer from each candidate in my mailbox or under my door
- Multiple phone calls from each candidate. The NDP candidate left a message (which I think is a strategic error - many people find voicemails annoying) but the others didn't. I do appreciate the fact that all candidates phone lines that display their names on call display so I could screen accordingly.
- A man in a red t-shirt knocked on my apartment door at once point. I don't know if he was a Liberal canvasser or just a strange man who happened to be wearing a red shirt, because I don't open my door to strangers.
- I saw only one sign in my riding, for the Liberal incumbent, but it was taken down when the house was sold.  I also saw one sign each for the Liberal and NDP candidates in windows of an apartment building in an adjacent riding.  (Yes, even with riding distribution, my neighbourhood is still irritatingly fragmented among multiple ridings.)
- My candidates were really irritating on Twitter.  They kept sniping at each other and subtweeting. I felt like a kid trapped in the back seat of a car while family members argued.

Traditional post-election simulator tests:

Using the percentages available on the Elections Canada site, the simulators produce the following results:

Too Close to Call

Liberal: 138
Conservative: 120
NDP: 71
BQ: 8
Green: 1


Liberal: 131
Conservative: 126
NDP: 78
BQ: 2
Green: 1

(Also, was the Hill+Knowlton simulator really annoying for anyone else this year? It kept jumping around on the page every time I moved a slider.)

Actual results:

Liberal: 184
Conservative: 99
NDP: 44
BQ: 10
Green: 1

As with the last federal election, the prediction and simulation models don't seem able to properly process surges.

Thoughts on the results:

I'm still pondering this surprisingly large shift from NDP to Liberals.  Did a whole bunch of people feel moved to vote for the Liberals or against the NDP?  Was it because the Liberals were campaigning left and the NDP was campaigning right, as happened in the last Ontario election? (Although it seemed to me that this shift wasn't nearly as strong as in the last Ontario election.)  None of these phenomena seemed pronounced enough to cause such a drastic shift.  Or were so many people strategically voting against the Conservatives incorrectly (i.e. by using national polls rather than looking at the situation in their riding) that it actually ended up being correct?

If it's the latter, I certainly hope the new government's statement about this being the last "first past the post" election proves to be correct, because adding the factor of other people who might strategically vote incorrectly to your strategic voting strategy is just too complicated! 

Monday, October 19, 2015


I dressed in my usual black and purple election day outfit, but then decided to violate my "no party colours" rule by wearing my late grandmother's birthstone ring.  She was a huge fan of voting (and of dogs), so I thought it would be appropriate to bring her with me.

As in previous years, I planned the longest justifiable route, with some errands along the way, to maximize my opportunity to pet dogs.  (For those of you just tuning in, the more dogs I pet on the way to vote, the better the election outcome.)

But zero dog-petting opportunities presented themselves!  The dogs kept being led away from the sidewalk onto the grass, or across the street from me, or otherwise on trajectories that I couldn't reasonably intercept.  The only interceptable dog I encountered was in the middle of pooing! 

I began to wonder if I'd thrown off equilibrium with the ring, so I went home (perfectly justifiable! I was carrying groceries and there was a line-up outside my polling station!), put the groceries in the fridge, and took off the ring. I'm still not sure if that was the right decision. Then I proceeded to the polling station by a perfectly reasonable route that happens to have high dog potential.

It did have high dog potential, but, again, none of them were interceptable. I saw like 20 dogs in 2 short blocks, and I couldn't reasonably pet any of them. In desperation, I passed a shade too close to a large dog that was part of a family with a crying baby, trailing my fingers a shade lower than natural in the hopes of getting a quick pet in even though they clearly didn't want to stop because they wanted to get home and take care of their baby.  But I misestimated our respective heights and missed.

The line to enter the polling station reached outside, which I've never seen before.  I had a voter's card, so once I was inside I was directed straight to my poll.  There was no one else waiting for that poll, so I was in and out in two minutes.  However, there was a very long line-up for people who didn't have voter's cards.

This means lots of new people are voting.  I hope that's enough to outweight the back lock of zero dog pettings.

Friday, October 09, 2015


I recently saw a video of my 1-year-old baby cousin running up and down a small grassy hill in her local park.

It's quite evident from this video that going up and down a hill is an acquired skill.  She's very clearly working on mastering the balance and motor skills involved, and still learning the effects of gravity and momentum.  Sometimes she stops and seems overwhelmed. Sometimes she has to put her hands down, or sit down and scoot on her bum for a bit. Sometimes she has to stop and move perpendicular to the slope of the hill.  Sometimes momentum overtakes her and she falls flat on her poor little face, giggling all the while.

Watching this, I remembered that sometimes when I was a kid, walking up or, especially, down a big hill seemed far more dramatic than it does now. It felt somehow risky, as though there was a good chance that I might fall. But seeing the situation through the eyes of my baby cousin, I now realize I felt that way because my hill-climbing skills weren't as developed as they are now.

This gave me an interesting idea: what if, at some place and time in human history when people moved around far less than they do now, there was someone who had never climbed a hill?  Perhaps they grew up in the kind of place where you can watch your dog run away for three days, and simply never had cause to stray far from home.  Surely this must have happened to someone, somewhere, within the full range of human experience.

And what if someone who had never climbed a hill then had to travel far away from home and encountered a hill for the first time when they were well into adulthood?  They'd be all "OMG, what's that?  That's unnatural! The gods must be angry!"

And then when they tried to climb the hill, they'd probably get it wrong for the first few times.  Their brain wouldn't know how to bend their legs and shift the balance of their bodies, at least not perfectly.  They'd probably fall down.  It might even look impossible to them, like walking straight up a vertical cliff face looks impossible to us.  They might be standing at the top of what looks to us like a perfectly innocuous hill, getting a wave of vertigo if they look down, going "Are you sure this is safe?"