Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How to make Google News RSS feeds once again work in The Old Reader

A couple of days ago, I noticed that my Google News RSS feeds in The Old Reader weren't working properly. The feed was getting served up to me, but when I clicked through to the article, it took me to the main Google News page.

It turns out this was happening because Google News automatically modifies the URL (similar to how Google search changes the URL from the actual URL of the page to a redirect starting with "" with a bunch of tracking information in it.) Something about the redirect makes it now point to the main Google News page, rather than to the article in question.

After some experimentation, I discovered that a Firefox extension called "Don't track me Google" effectively eliminates this redirect, so I can once again click on the article in The Old Reader and be sent to the actual article.

I previously had another extension for this purpose called "Google search link fix", but for some reason it wasn't effective with the latest changes to Google News.

I have no idea if this works in browsers other than Firefox, or feed readers other than The Old Reader.

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?
– 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.

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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Coping tips for a young introvert

 From a recent Dear Prudence chat:
Hi Prudie, My family is rather large (45 people on average for Thanksgiving) and my husband's parents are divorced and we try to see both of them at some point over the weekend. Our kids are 13, 11, and eight and in the past have seemed to enjoy spending the holiday weekend this way. Yesterday my 11-year-old daughter told me that she wants a "quiet" holiday. We have noticed that she is getting increasingly introverted over the past year or so, more likely to read by herself than play with her brothers and cousins. She told me that there are "too many people and too much driving." My husband and I are party-loving extroverts, so house hopping and driving six+ hours over the weekend is no big deal to us. But my daughter doesn't complain often and I know if she brings something up it is legitimately important to her. In small groups, and especially one-on-one, my daughter is a delight: creative, funny, and very smart. But in big groups she just fades into the background, possibly counting down the minutes until she can read by herself again. How do I balance my daughter's request that we tone things down with a) reasonable expectations from family to see us, b) the rest of my immediate family's love of going all-out, and c) not making the holiday all about her. My daughter's personality is so different from the rest of us that I don't know how to meet everybody's needs at once. Any advice? Any introverts want to chime in?

In addition to Prudie's answer, I have some ideas:

- First of all, don't worry about the fact that she's fading into the background!  That's not a problem.  She doesn't need to be the star.  She's there, she's doing her duty, she's not being rude to anyone, that's sufficient.  Work with her on managing the situation so she doesn't get overly drained and melt down, work on giving her options for respites and recharging, protect and advocate for her within the family, but don't worry that she isn't the star of the family dinner table.  Civil and emotionally neutral is sufficient.

- In terms of specific strategies, is there a job she could do that would take her away from everyone else?  A dog that needs walking?  A sleeping baby that needs to be checked on?  Something that needs to be fetched from the garage?

- Is it possible for her to spend a small amount of time (like 10 minutes) in the car alone while everyone else is in the house?  You could have a code "I need to get something out of the car", give her the keys, and let her get in the back and decompress.  If anyone comes out to check on her, she could be rummaging through a bag that's in the car.  (Besides, anyone who catches an 11-year-old girl secretively getting something out of the car is just going to assume that she got her period.)

- Set a schedule, tell her what it is, and stick to it.  "We're going to Auntie Em's for dinner at 6, and we'll leave by 10."  It's much more bearable when you know when it's going to end.

- If the house is big enough to have multiple bathrooms, when she needs a break she could use the upstairs bathroom.  The two-storey suburban houses in my family have a small powder room downstairs, and a full bathroom upstairs that's the family's primary bathroom (for showering, brushing teeth, etc.) but isn't in any of the bedrooms.  (There's often also an ensuite in the master bedroom.)  Usually guests use the downstairs bathroom, but when there's a lot of people in the house and it's family, you might use the upstairs bathroom if the downstairs bathroom is occupied.  This would be quieter and give you a moment alone.  You can pretty much stay in there until you hear someone coming up the stairs, and then you have the excuse "Oh, the downstairs bathroom was occupied and I couldn't wait." (Again, they'll just assume that she got her period.)

- If there is an unoccupied "public" room of the house (i.e. not someone's bedroom), she could go hang out there and, if someone comes and asks her what she's doing, she could say "Oh, I was just admiring this picture on the wall.  What's the story behind it?"  Practise plausible scripts with her, so she can turn being "caught" being alone into a pleasant sociable conversation-starter.

- If the trip involves overnight stays, can you stay in a hotel rather than with relatives?  Since the letter mentions the introvert daughter as having "brothers", that would mean she's the only girl, so she should at least be able to get her own bed.  If you can manage a suite instead of a room, maybe she could get her own room (girls going through puberty do start needing privacy from their brothers, after all), or sleep alone in the living-room area of the suite.  If you have to stay with relatives, think about how to give her her own space to sleep. Maybe she'd prefer sleeping on the couch in the den rather than on her cousin's floor?

- Can you host, maybe every other year or so?  That would spare your daughter the driving time and give her the option of retreating to her own room.

- Does she have a smartphone?  (Or will she within the next couple of years?) Since she likes to read, maybe she could put an ebook reader app on her phone, and, when she gets a chance to duck into a quiet room, read that way.  It gives the appearance that she's  just sending a quick text or something, whereas sitting with an actual book implies that you've settled in for a while.  People might still think she's rude for ducking into another room and texting during a family event, but I think if she can give the impression that she's just finishing up when someone notices her, it shouldn't go over too badly.

- Try to give her at least one day off during the weekend.  I always find going straight from an action-packed weekend to a full week of work (or, worse, school) is practically unbearable.  I need at least one day to sleep in and lounge around at home doing nothing.  If it's not possible to have a day off during the weekend, maybe let her stay home "sick" on the first day back.  (You could tell her brothers she really is sick if they're likely to want a free sick day too.  Again, they'll just assume she has her period.)

- Depending on the personalities involved, you might consider strategically outing her as an introvert to key family members.   Don't make it a big "We need to talk" with undertones of shamefulness.  Break the news with enthusiasm for the revelation and sympathy for your daughter.  "I was just reading this book, and I realized that Daughter is an introvert.  You know how we love seeing the whole family over the holidays and get energized and recharged from it?  Turns out all this time this has been draining to her, poor kid!"  If one key member of each household you're visiting is aware of her needs (and isn't going to use this information to give her shit), maybe they can help with things like letting her walk the dog or giving her more private sleeping arrangements, or at the very least not meddle and nag if they ever spot her catching a moment's privacy.

- Prudie recommends the book Quiet by Susan Cain.  It is useful, bit I found Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney even more useful. It includes a technical (but understandable) description of the neurology behind introversion, and specific strategies for introverts in extroverted families.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why I want everyone to refer respectfully to those I disagree with

Recently my twitter feed turned up a blog entry that formulated an excellent argument in support of a political position that I agree with, explaining the issue fantastically for those who aren't already familiar with it. My first instinct was to retweet it for the benefit of those who don't see this issue from the same point of view or haven't given it much thought. Unfortunately, the blog author used insulting nicknames for the individuals and organizations with whom they (and I) disagree. I'm not going to argue that the insulting nicknames weren't well-deserved, or, in some cases at least, perfectly accurate, but the problem is that they destroyed all the post's credibility in the eyes of those who didn't already agree with our position.

I know I'm not the boss of anyone else's blog and I know that we're all totally allowed to use our own blogs for venting, but it's just so frustrating to see such a useful argument that I can't use or share because of a bit of name-calling!

If you're going to say something I disagree with, go ahead and say it however you want. I welcome your destruction of your own credibility.

If you're going to say something I agree with but can express better, go ahead and say it however you want. I don't need you.

But if you're going to say something so brilliant and insightful and better than I could ever come up with that I feel compelled to link to it and share it, please don't do so disrespectfully. You don't even have to be actively respectful. Just calling people by surname only will do the job, and it's still easy to mentally pronounce venomously.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What to do when your pre-teen daughter wants to remove her body hair

There was recently a letter in the Globe and Mail's Ask A Pediatrician column from a parent whose 8-year-old daughter wants to start shaving her legs. As a former hairy 8-year-old myself, I felt compelled to respond.

Short version for busy parents: Anyone who has body hair is old enough to remove said body hair. In my personal experience, a No!No! is the best hair removal method for beginners. For more information on how I arrived at this reasoning, keep reading.

My credentials

You're probably thinking "You don't have kids, what do you know?" What I know is what it's like to be a hairy little girl. I have more body hair than most women, and started puberty earlier than most people. I seem to remember more clearly than most people what I thought and felt as a child, and I can now articulate those feelings with adult vocabulary and nuance, and without feeling the need to hide or sugarcoat anything like a younger girl might out of awkwardness or shame. I also have 20 years' experience managing my body hair, and have tried literally every home hair removal method currently in existence.

When you should let your daughter start removing her body hair

Short answer: as soon as she has body hair that she'd like to remove.

Your first thought is probably "But she's too young!" But when it comes to taking care of our bodies, we have to work with what our bodies are actually doing, not what they theoretically should be doing. If your daughter started menstruating, you'd provide her with feminine hygiene products and make sure she knows where babies come from. If she began developing breasts, you'd provide her with the foundational garments she needs to maintain her comfort and modesty. If she started having strange vaginal discharge, you'd get her gynecological care.

In fact, her young age makes having prominent body hair even worse, because she and her peers aren't accustomed to this, and might not even know that it's normal. (One of the greatest humiliations of my life was being the only person, male or female, with hairy armpits at the Grade 5 pool party. Neither I nor any of my classmates knew at the time that hairy armpits were a normal part of puberty. It took until adulthood for my self-esteem to recover.) She's likely the hairiest person in her class, male or female. If her mother removes her body hair, and if her sisters are either young enough that they don't have prominent body hair or old enough that they remove their own body hair, then your daughter probably thinks she's the only person in the world who has this very visible, very humiliating problem. Her self-concept will be defined by it. And, because for her entire hairy life she has not been permitted to remove her body hair, she cannot help but to feel like she will have to spend the rest of her whole life experiencing this humiliation.

However, being able to remove your body hair gives you control over this. You aren't sentenced to be the ugliest person in the room any more. You are no longer defined by your hair. You once again have control and sovereignty over your body and can look as feminine as you feel. I am telling you from my firsthand experience as a hairy girl, it is outright empowering!

Because your daughter specifically asked you about shaving, we know that she is bothered by her body hair and that she knows you can provide her with a solution. If you do provide her with a solution, she will learn that if she goes to you with questions or concerns about her changing body, you will give her solutions that make her feel empowered. However, if you tell her that she's too young, she will feel even more ashamed of her body hair, as though she's being bad just by being hairy at too young an age. The shame compounds: she feels ashamed because she has ugly masculine hair, and she ashamed at having hair at an age you consider too young, and she feels ashamed at wanting to remove the hair when you think she's too young. Again, these bad feelings are even worse for especially young kids, because they still want to Be Good rather than rebelling against their parents. You can save her from this shame spiral and reward her for coming to you with her concerns about her changing body simply by providing her with the solution she came to you for, which what any good parent does when their kid comes to them with any problem.

While it is normal for a younger kid to go to their parents for permission to do something to or with their own body (and such permission is often also logistically necessary), we all know that it's really a question of sovereignty over one's own body. Denying her this sovereignty will introduce the idea that it's normal for authority figures to overrule her sovereignty over her own body. Do you want to take that risk? Then, as she gets older and starts thinking about it, she'll extrapolate that your rules are arbitrary and lack credibility, and will proceed to do whatever she wants without consulting you.

In summary, letting your kids remove their body hair as soon as they want to will increase their self esteem, empower them, assert their sovereignty over their own body, increase your credibility in their eyes, and teach them that coming to you with any concerns they might have about their changing bodies gets good results. Not allowing them to remove their body hair has the opposite effect.

At this point, you're still thinking "But what if she hurts herself with a razor or hot wax? And I don't want her to have to commit to a beauty routine for the rest of her life, not at such a young age!" That brings me to...

Why I recommend the No!No!

If you clicked on the link above, you're probably thinking that the No!No! looks expensive and infomercially. It is a bit pricier than parents normally spend on pre-teens (although you can often get deals on ebay) but it does do the job. Here's why I like it, and why I think it's especially suitable for particularly young users:

1. The No!No! is safe. It's impossible to injure yourself with it. The only harm can come from if you get loose skin caught in it, and the one time I did this (I ran it over my elbow with my arm straightened instead of bent, so the skin wasn't anywhere near taut) I got a red line on my skin that disappeared the next day. No blood, no pain, no scar, just a red line. It's contraindicated for genitals and breasts, but can be used on the rest of the body, including the face.

2. The No!No! is easy. It's just as fast as shaving, but without any of the mess. You don't even need to be in the bathroom to do it. (I do mine in my bedroom - no water required!) Even in cases where it doesn't get every single hair, you always finish with fewer hairs than you started with. It's never a frustrating waste of time.

3. The No!No! is painless. It doesn't pull the hairs out, it zaps them in place. You feel a slightly warm thing passing over your skin, and that's all.

4. The No!No! can be used on all types of hair. It works on stubble and on longer hairs. You don't have to wait for the hair to grow to a certain length like you do with many epilatory methods. You can do it every day or once a week. It doesn't work on full-length pubic hair (you need to trim it down first, and it is contraindicated for the genitals anyway, although it's okay for the outer bikini line), and I, personally, struggle to make it work for armpit stubble (have never tried it on virgin armpit hair), although I struggle with all epilatory methods on my armpits because the layout of my breasts makes it difficult to get the skin taut. People with smaller breasts who carry less towards the outside tend not to have this problem, although I don't have any testimonials specific to the No! No! It does work on my leg stubble, as well as on regrown waxed hair and virgin arm and face hair.

5. You can stop using the No!No! whenever you want without any unpleasant regrowth phase. This is the reason why I so strongly recommend it for younger users specifically. Hair removed with a No! No! doesn't grow back as stubble. It isn't prickly. It doesn't get all ingrowny. It simply grows back as a kinder, gentler version of your own hair. Not every single follicle regrows, some regrow more slowly, some regrow finer or paler. Virgin hair (i.e. hair that has never been removed before) regrows looking even more virgin. I have used it on my forearms and on my face (mustache, sideburns, chin whiskers), and I have gone up to a month in between treatments. Apart from the fact that each day I have marginally more hair there than the day before, it doesn't look at all like hair regrowth.

When I was a hairy preteen, I alternated between wanting to remove my ugly body hair, and resenting the fact that I had to keep removing my ugly body hair. But if I stopped, I'd get stubbly and itchy. The No! No! eliminates this dilemma. Your daughter can remove her hair every day in the summer and stop in the winter. She can remove her hair once and then decide it's not worth the trouble, and then revisit it a year later. She can remove her hair only for special occasions. She can experiment with removing hair from another area of her body without any drama.

In summary, the No!No! addresses every concern a parent might have about a pre-teen removing their body hair. It's possible you might have to supplement with a razor for armpits, tweezers for eyebrows, or clippers for longer (i.e. longer than an inch or two) hair, but I highly recommend the No!No! as the best starting point.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to get Rogers to realize that there's a network problem in your neighbourhood

My internet's been down for nearly three days with some complicated problem that's maybe three levels more complicated than I can understand. (They were pulling wires out of my walls and testing them, then had to get the supers to let them pull wires out of the building's walls, then had to escalate it one level above that.) The techs who helped me were awesome - communicative, respectful of my need to have my internet service work, accepted my troubleshooting and explained what they were doing when it got above the level I can understand, didn't make me uncomfortable even though I had a cumulative total of three strange men who were bigger than me in my apartment - and made the process as painless as possible. They were carrying extra modems with them, and were fully prepared to just replace my modem on the spot if that ended up being a problem! I'm not happy about 3 days without internet, but I'm very satisfied with the service I received.

But here I just want to share one thing the tech told me, because if everyone knows this it will make life easier for all of us: Rogers only knows there's an outage in a given area if a lot of people call them!

If only one or two people call, they have to start by treating it as an individualized problem, which means walking people through troubleshooting over the phone, and if that doesn't work sending techs to individual households to check the modems and the cabling. They can only start treating it as a macro problem if they get a large number of calls all from the same area or if, as in my case, the techs are dispatched to an individual household and spend an hour painstakingly confirming every single thing that could possibly be causing the problem within the household.

So it turns out our natural reaction - "Meh, I don't want to wait on hold for ages! I'm sure they already know about this, I'll just patiently do something else until they fix it." - are counterproductive, and we need to call in when we're experiencing a network problem.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to give career guidance to students

From an otherwise-unrelated article:

Unemployment’s on the rise, you need a skill,” a weathered old guidance counsellor says to an androgynous male pupil in the BBC’s new biopic Worried About the Boy. “What can you do better than other people?”

I wish someone had asked me that when I was a kid! (Or, better for my introvert brain, asked me to think over a period of time about what I can do better than everyone else.) If they had asked me that, I totally would have come up with languages. If they had asked me to think about what within the field of languages came easiest and I was best at and I most enjoyed, I would have come up with translation. Then I would have been guided towards a suitable and compatible career path!

"But wait," you're thinking, "you are a translator! You did land in a suitable and compatible career path!" Yes, but I did it without (and, in fact, despite) the advice of the grownups who were supposed to be advising me.

The career advice I received fell into three general categories: 1) Do what you love, 2) Do what can't be outsourced and will make you money, and 3) Do what not enough people of your demographic are doing.

What I loved was music, but I'm no good at it. I'm technically proficient with a suitable amount of practice, but I have no soul. If the world needed session musicians to the same extent it needed typists before the invention of word processing then I would have had a chance, but in the real world it would have eaten me alive.

The most common examples I was given of something that can't be outsourced and would make me money were plumbing and dental hygiene. But I wouldn't have been especially good at plumbing because I'm not good at physical things that need to be perfect (people certainly wouldn't want their plumbing "good enough!") and I wouldn't have been especially good at dental hygiene because you need people skills.

They were also trying to encourage me to go into engineering or computer programming because it was trendy at the time to encourage girls to go into these fields. They tried to push me in this direction because I had decent marks in math and science, but the thing is about 20% of my class was ahead of me, so I wouldn't have been anything special.

In my language classes, I was always top of the class. I was in the top 10% of the candidates for translation school, and on graduation I was second in the class - but that also meant I was the lowest-ranked person in my class who got recruited straight out of uni (yes, only 2 of us got recruited) and now I am thoroughly unexceptional for a translator of my seniority and experience. If I had gone into any of the other fields into which I was being encouraged on the basis that my marks in school were decent, I would have been struggling, if not failing, by the time I hit the workplace.

Because that's the thing that was never explicitly mentioned in all the career advice I received from my elders: you will be in competition with everyone else in this field. There are very few fields in which they merely need warm bodies, so you'd do better to look at what you're better than other people at. I sincerely hope that anyone who might find themselves giving advice to kids who are uncertain about choosing a career will take this into account.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

How to teach writing: make the content obvious

My high school English classes focused on two things: writing skills and literary analysis. The problem was that they tried to teach us writing skills by having us write literary analysis essays. For me, this meant that I had trouble focusing on my writing skills because I was struggling to come up with decent literary analysis. (I neither particularly care about nor am very good at literary analysis.) This was compounded by the fact that some teachers would give you better marks for coming up with a creative and unique interpretation and fully justifying and supporting it with the text, while others would give you worse marks for not coming up with the standard interpretation. I never reached the point of giving a moment's thought to "Is the structure of my argument optimal? What questions would the reader be asking at this point?" because I was too busy trying to come up with a thousand words about symbolism.

They did try to teach us stuff about business correspondence and such as well, but the problem here was they taught us all about the structure without any thought as to the content. In Grade 9, they "taught" us how to write a resume by saying..."Your assignment is to write your resume." Problem: I'm in Grade 9. I've never had a job. What do I actually put on my resume? Yeah, they gave us all kinds of inapplicable advice, like "List achievements, such as "increased sales by 30%," but that doesn't help a teenager get their first job. So I put my education and extracurriculars all the right format, and got a decent mark for it because I got the format right. But I still had no idea what I could actually put on my resume to get a job.

I didn't actually learn how to do that properly until well into university, in the English and French writing courses that were part of my tiny and obscure translation program. The way they taught us there was "Find an ad for a job you're qualified for and could totally do. Then prepare a resume and cover letter to apply for that specific job." They did give us some examples of how you might tailor hypothetical resumes to hypothetical situations, but the most valuable thing was working with my own actual personal history and actual real-life ads for jobs that I am in fact qualified to do. I knew all my information and I knew why I met the requirements of the job, I just had to work on presenting it. I didn't have to worry about "What do I write?", so I could focus my energy on "How do I write it?"

One of the humanities courses I took had a similar approach to essay-writing. The prof had clearly found that his students weren't always on even ground in terms of understanding and being able to meet the expectations of university-level essays, so for our first assignment he gave us something that was intended to simply teach us how to meet these expectations. We spent some time in class talking about Goffman's definition of a total institution until we all seemed to more or less grok it. Then we got the assignment: pick something - anything in the world - and write an essay explaining why it meets Goffman's definition of a total institution. We had the definition all set out in our textbook, we had discussed it extensively in class, we all knew the arguments for a few of the standard examples of total institutions (but were free to pick anything else in the world), and since were were all picking our own example of an institution we all believed the argument made in our essay to be true. Since the content was obvious, we could focus solely on structuring our argument. So we did that assignment, got it back, and had a very clear idea of the prof's expectations and how to meet them, which served us well in conducting more in-depth critical analysis later in the course.

I think all English classes should take this approach. Create situations in which the "What do I say?" is obvious, so students can learn to express it well. Then once they've mastered that, you can spend time on literary analysis.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why your childless friends stopped calling

I often see in advice columns new parents complaining that their childless friends aren't calling them as much or aren't as involved in their lives.

Here's why:

We don't want to wake up the baby.

We know that you're not getting much sleep, and that the baby requires a lot of time and attention. We know that whatever idle chitchat we might have isn't nearly as important as letting the baby sleep if it's asleep, or as letting you parent the baby if it's awake. So we aren't going to go barging in on your important stuff for our less important stuff. Frankly, we don't know how you do it, but we do know well enough not to go imposing additional burdens on you.

So if you want to chat, call us when it's a good time for you. If you want something specific from us, let us know. Remember: you have been childless, but we have never been parents. Your needs have changed immensely, but ours are still pretty much the same. You know where we're coming from as well as you ever did, but we can only guess where you're coming from. You're the only one with the ability to bridge the gap, because you're the only one in this relationship who's been on both sides.

Friday, January 09, 2009

How to improve Canada's consumer confidence with three simple words

Protect existing jobs.

That's the soundbite our governments need. Protect existing jobs. Frankly, realistically, since we're talking consumer confidence (which is subjective and somewhat emotional) they wouldn't actually have to do very much to protect existing jobs. Perhaps one or two token gestures, but mostly all they'd have to do is not do anything that would cost people their jobs. If people feel like their jobs are being protected, their consumer confidence will increase.

Protect existing jobs.

Dear Mr. Harper: Let's see these words in your budget speech.

Dear Mr. Ignatieff: Let's see these words in the conditions to which you hold the government's budget speech.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How to eliminate all but the most medically necessary late-term abortions

I know, this is a boring topic, but I'm just gonna do this one real quick post with a practical solution to a specific problem that has only recently come to my attention, and then on to more interesting things. They're going through the motions of dropping it, so I'll do the same.

In reading the comment pages lately (I know, I know), I'm surprised at how many people are concerned specifically about late-term abortion. I always thought it was more of an "abortions for all" vs. "abortions for none" dichotemy, but it seems for some people it makes a lot of difference how far along the gestation is.

Strange issue that never occurred to me, but luckily I have a solution that will reduce late-term abortion specifically:

Make timely abortion easily accessible to everyone.

If you can just get on the bus one day at your convenience, go down to the local abortion clinic, get your abortion, and take the bus back home where you can recover quietly, you're going to get it within a week of peeing on the stick, possibly the same day. However, if you have to plan out-of-town (out-of-province? out-of-country?) travel, scrounge together a bunch of money, take a day off work and lose a day's pay in the process, find a sitter, convince someone to come with you because you can't drive yourself home after an abortion and the only way to get to the clinic is by car, and/or ditch your overprotective parents and find someplace to crash out of their sight while you recover, that will seriously hinder your ability to get it done in the first trimester.

So if, for whatever reason, the idea of late-term abortion bothers you, the thing to do is lobby for increased access for everyone. That will eliminate late-term abortion in all cases except those upredictable ones where the fetus just goes kerflooey (or whatever it is happens - I'm not up on the third trimester) and has to be removed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What all our politicians need to do now

Many many people are making the mistake of turning the entire Canadian political stage into a referendum on the Coalition. But it's not really about the Coalition. I know, I know, the Coalition is the most interesting thing to happen in my lifetime. We've never seen one before and it's nice to look at. It's somewhere between a breath of fresh air and a wave of Obama-like inspiration to people who are sick of the partisan-über-alles turn our politics have taken. It's he shoots he scores in the final seconds of the third period and suddenly the score's tied one all and we're into sudden death overtime.

But it's not the point.

The point is economic policy. The coalition came about because all the opposition parties agreed that the government's economic statement was inadequate. The first thing that is going to happen when Commons sits again is a budget vote. Those are the things that are getting voted on, so those are the things that our politicians need to focus on.

The Conservatives need to stop putting so much energy into dissing the Coalition. Even if every single Canadian decides the Coalition is pure evil, that isn't going to affect the outcome of the budget vote. What the Conservatives should be doing is a combination of preparing a budget that the other parties will find acceptable, and selling their budget to Canadians so Canadians will encourage their MPs to vote for the budget. (Aside: does anyone remember whether some time passes between when the budget is read in the House and when it's voted on? It seems like there should be, but I can't for the life of me remember.)

Meanwhile, what the opposition parties need to do is take a "Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition" approach. Not all Canadians like the idea of a coalition, and if they take a "Coalition über alles" approach that will drive anti-coalition voters to the Conservatives. The opposition parties need to have a plan in place for forming a coalition if the government should fall (they already have one, they just need to keep it.) Then they need to agree upon minimum standards of economic and social policy they will hold the government to, and inform the government and the public of these standards. If the government meets the minimum standards, the three opposition parties will continue working in accordance with their own party platforms. If the government fails to meet the standards, BOOM, instant coalition. This would be a much more effective way to keep the government in check and it would mitigate the impression that the opposition just want to be in power because they'd effectively be telling the government how to keep them out of power. If there should be an election, the opposition parties shouldn't campaign as a coalition. They should campaign as separate parties with separate platforms, but they should also publically and transparently inform us of the conditions under which they would create a coalition.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How to retrofit your highrise for green bin organic waste collection at no cost whatsoever

The green bin organic waste collection program is now being extended to highrises! YAY!

Problem: My building only has one garbage chute! Problem: People aren't going to want to take their organics downstairs and outside every day! Problem: If people don't empty their green bin frequently enough, we'll get infestations! Problem: The outdoor dumpster for organics is going to get really gross really fast!

Solution: use the garbage chute for organics, and put your regular garbage dumpster out back along with the recycling.

That way, the thing that needs to be disposed of most urgently will be the easiest to dispose of. People can throw their organics down the chute every day, and take the recycling and regular waste (neither of which will go smelly or attract pests) out back at their convenience. If the organics dumpster gets smelly or gross or infested, people can still dispose of their organics down the chute without having to go anywhere near it. Since the garbage chute room is indoors, the organics will be indoors where they'll attract fewer pests. And since the smelly pest-attracting garbage is locked away, fewer pests will be attracted to the remaining outdoor dumpster.

All you have to do to make this change is print up a few signs and flyers for your tenants, and if you're a well-run building you already have that in your budget.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How to use the strike at York to your academic advantage

I was at York during the 2000-2001 strike, which lasted about three months, and here's what I learned:

Keep doing your coursework.

Even though you have no classes, keep doing the same number of hours of homework a day no matter what happens. (If you don't plan your work that way, half an hour of work per class per day is a good guideline, at least it was back in my day.)

Get caught up on all your assignments (it's November, you're feeling the crunch now anyway), study the fuck out of your December exams, then start doing next semester's reading for your full-year courses. Don't stop until you've finished every single word of reading and assignments that you can possibly extrapolate from your syllabuses and studied all the material so well you're certain you'll get 100% on every exam.

You obviously don't have enough information to identify every bit of work you'll have to do between now and April, but you have some of it. So do the part that you have now, and it will ease the workload when you go back to class. Those of us who did this during our three-month strike found that it was like taking a half courseload in terms of stress and busy-ness and time to dedicate to each class. And for those of you who are worried about the school year being extended and thus cutting into your summer job time, getting ahead now will let you do your year-end assignments ahead of time, so worst case you can just leave early at the end of the year.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A workable alternative to Revlon Quicksand nailpolish

For everyone who's getting here by googling for Revlong Quicksand nailpolish:

I find that Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear in Vanilla Bean is a workable alternative. It's just a skinch sheerer than Revlon Quicksand, but two coats does give sufficient coverage (unlike most polishes that colour that are so sheer as to be useless). Plus it's one of the most durable polishes I've ever worn, and you can't beat the price.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Open Letter to women who are wondering if their boyfriends will ever change their mind and want to have children

Dear R who wrote in to Cary Tennis and lady who wrote into Claudia Dey:

My first thought was to implore you, speaking as a childfree 27-year-old (who was recently a childfree 26-year-old), to take your boyfriends at their word.

However, I quickly realized that if you aren't going to listen to a 27-year-old whom you like well enough to date, you clearly aren't going to listen to a 27-year-old stranger.

So instead, I'll give you a little piste de réflexion. Just think about this, quietly and to yourself, at your leisure, and see what you come up with:

If you were dating a 27/26-year-old man who said he does want children eventually, would you assume that in his youthful folly he doesn't know what he's talking about and may yet change his mind?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Advanced pedestrian techniques

1. You're pushing an enormous stroller. This means you're slowed down a bit, and it means you have to use the rampy bit of the curb (what's that thing called?) to get back up on the sidewalk after crossing the road. We, your fellow pedestrians in the crosswalk, understand that. That's why we're walking beside you to pass you and straying slightly out of the crosswalk to get back up on the sidewalk on the non-rampy bit, so the rampy bit will be free for your use. So once you've gotten your stroller up on the sidewalk, please take one or two steps directly away from the road before turning left or right. If you get up on the sidewalk and turn straight left or right, you're preventing the people who've so kindly gone off to the side to make room for you on the rampy bit from getting up onto the sidewalk before the light changes.

2. It's raining. Some people have umbrellas and some people don't. A lot of the buildings have overhangs that cover half the sidewalk. So if you don't have an umbrella, walk under the overhang. If you do have an umbrella, don't walk under the overhang.

3. The tunnel doesn't quite connect directly to the mall. You have to walk outdoors for about 20 seconds. So some people might put on a coat, some people might not. I think we can all see both sides. So if you are wearing a coat and walking in a large group of people, make extra sure you leave room for people to pass you. As you know, large groups naturally walk slower than individuals, but there are individuals without coats who were planning on having to spend only 20 seconds outside and don't want to have to spend a whole minute outdoors without a coat stuck behind you while you talk loudly and laugh at your children for acting their age.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Parenting advice from the childfree

Inspired by a train of thought arising from the first letter in Friday's Vine (i.e. Friday March 9, it hasn't been archived yet):

Think about the sexual values you want your kid(s) to have. Yes, I know, squicky. You don't want them having sex at all ever. But work past that mentally and think into the distant future, when your kid is a full-fledged adult and in whatever kind of situation you think it's appropriate for people to be in before they have sex. What do you want their sexual values to be? Do you want their sex to be loving? Kind? Gentle? Respectful? Fair and equal? Fun? Romantic? Not taken too seriously? Taken very seriously? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Married? Unmarried? For procreation purposes only? Heavy protected by contraception? Just decide, quietly and to yourself, what these values are.

Then, whenever a book you're reading contains sex scenes that reflect these values, buy the book and keep it on a bookshelf in your home. The books don't have to be about sex, they just have to contain one or more sex scene of whatever level of graphicness they happen to be. You can read them or not as your preferences dictate to you, just keep them on a bookshelf in your livingroom or some other public area of your home. Don't point this out to your kid or anything, just keep it there in your home.

Why? Because at some point in early adolescence, your kid is going to learn that some books have sex in them. And they're going to look for the sexy parts of books so they can learn more about sex. While they might prefer a more visual medium, books have the advantage of being innocent- and respectable-looking, silent, and easily portable. Once your kid discovers that there's sex in them thar books, they will read the books, especially the sex scenes, and most likely surreptitiously. But because you have chosen books whose sex scenes reflect what you consider to be positive sexual values, your kid's earliest exposures to sex portrayed in media will reflect the values you want to instill.