Showing posts with label free ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free ideas. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What if Star Trek: Discovery could desexualize the miniskirt uniform?

I recently saw an article saying that Star Trek: Discovery should use unisex miniskirt uniforms.  The article quoted Nichelle Nichols:
“The show was created in the age of the miniskirt, and the crew women’s uniforms were very comfortable. Contrary to what many may think today, no one really saw it as demeaning back then. In fact, the miniskirt was a symbol of sexual liberation. More to the point, though, in the twenty-third century, you are respected for your abilities regardless of what you do or do not wear.”
I absolutely agree that, when Discovery inevitably runs up against the original series uniforms (which, being set about 10 years before TOS, it will if it has a full run), it should present the miniskirt uniforms as unisex/gender-neutral, like TNG briefly did before it phased them out entirely. 

But what if, in addition to making the miniskirts gender-neutral, Star Trek: Discovery could make them non-sexy?

Imagine if the most prominent occurrence of the miniskirt uniform was a person whom modern television costuming standards would not normally put in a miniskirt. Someone whose legs are hairier than average.  Someone whose thighs rub together below the hemline of the skirt.  Someone noticeably older than the rest of the cast.

For example, maybe 10% of the background cast is in miniskirts (at least 50% of whom are male), and maybe one or two characters who have "Aye, Captain" sort of lines are seen wearing miniskirts in one or two brief scenes.  And then the most prominent instance of a miniskirt is on a stout, battle-hardened octogenarian admiral, with a reputation for being a brilliant military tactician as well as a bit of a hardass (like Captain Jellico), who is called in for some particularly dire crisis where particular bravery, heroics and expertise are required. And throughout, the camerawork is done exactly the same way it would be if everyone is wearing pants, neither lingering on nor ignoring any particular character's legs.

From a production perspective, this would be difficult to carry off well.  First of all, every actor deserves the dignity of flattering, thoughtful costuming, and non-sexy miniskirts would not be perceived as flattering.  Secondly, there's a history of putting revealing female-coded clothing on performers who aren't women who meet the narrow Hollywood definition of sexy and presenting it as comedic. ("HA HA HA! Look at that dude's hairy man-legs in that miniskirt!")  It would be absolutely essential to avoid inadvertently doing this, and I don't know whether they could avoid having the less-savoury parts of the audience interpret the scene that way.

But if they could carry it off, it would disarm the unfortunate connotations of the miniskirt uniform and reclaim its original empowering intention s in a way that's consistent with woke Star Trek: Discovery values and with Federation values.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Things They Should Invent: replace emergency room waiting rooms with beds

I previously came up with the idea that emergency room waiting rooms should be sleepable.

After having been to the emergency room myself recently, I have a better idea: there should be no waiting room whatsoever, and patients should do all their waiting in beds.

You show up at the emergency room, get triaged, and then are put directly in a bed.  Not necessarily admitted to the hospital (in the sense of expected to stay overnight), but, unless medically contraindicated, every patient goes straight into a bed.

Ideally each bed should be in a private room, but that would require extensive renovations, so in the interim wards are fine. At a minimum, each bed should have privacy curtains around it, a chair for a support person, and somewhere for patients to put their shoes, coat and purse once they get into bed. It should be dark behind the curtains by default, but there should be a light the patient can turn on.

Patients wait for medical treatment in this bed.  Whenever possible, the medical professionals come to the patient and do stuff like physical exams and taking blood at the patient's bed, although the patient may be taken elsewhere if particular non-portable equipment is needed.

This way, patients can sleep if they are capable of doing so, and rest comfortably in any number of seated or recumbent positions or anything in between. Patients also have privacy from other patients, and probably less exposure to other patients' germs.

Being in a hospital bed would also make the patients more, well, patient (sorry!) with the situation, because they'd feel more like they're getting care. If you're admitted to a hospital, you're put in a bed and lie there resting, with medical professionals occasionally coming in to check on you.  Waiting in a bed would feel exactly like that, whereas waiting in a chair just feels like waiting.

If I had been put in a bed when I went to the hospital with my head injury, I would have spent those six hours lying in the dark with my eyes closed - as is recommended for concussion patients! Children with fevers or flu symptoms could sleep if they are able while their worried parents wait for them to get checked out. And all manner of patients whose symptoms come on at night wouldn't have to choose between seeking medical care and getting a full night's sleep.

Q: What about patients for whom sleeping or lying down is medically contraindicated?
A: They could continue to do whatever it is they do now. But that's no reason not to make things better for the many patients for whom sleeping or lying down is neutral or beneficial.

Q: Wouldn't this cost money?
A: Probably. And it would make things better. That's what money is for.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Things They Should Invent: paper shredders with multiple plastic bags

Some recycling providers want you to put shredded paper in plastic bags.

Special plastic bags are in fact manufactured for this purpose, designed to fit neatly into the bin of a paper shredder.

But this is a security problem.  If you shred a document into a plastic bag, all the pieces of that document are conveniently grouped together in the same bag, whereas if you dump loose shredded paper into the recycle bin the pieces all intermingle with the other recycling (including other shredded paper).  If someone wanted to reassemble the shredded document, surely it would be far easier if all the pieces were in the same bag!

But what if there were multiple bags in the same shredder? For the sake of argument, let's say there's three bags.  The left side of the document goes into one bag, the middle of the document goes into the second bag, and the right side of the document goes into the third bag.

At first glance, this sounds even worse for security - now you have an approximate idea of where on the page the various pieces belong!

But I think it would improve security in a building with multiple shredder.

For example, let's suppose we have an office building with 10 offices, each of which has one shredder, each of which produces one shredder bin of shredded paper per recycling pick-up period.

With one bag in each shredder, you have 10 bags of shredded paper in the building's recycling bin.  If you can locate the bag containing the document you're looking for, all the parts of that document are there. If you're looking for all shredded paper from a specific office, you find one bag and you've got it all.

But what if each of those shredders had 3 bags in it?

Now there are 30 (smaller) bags of shredded paper in the building's recycling bin.  If you can locate a bag containing part of the document you're looking for, you have to find the correct two of the remaining 29 bags to reassemble the document. If you're looking for all the shredded paper from a specific office, you have to find three of the 30 bags.

Even if you steal all the bags and start going through them, it's more time consuming to find the correct three of 30 bags than to find the one correct bag and disregard the rest.

I still think throwing loose shredded paper into the general recycling bin is best for security, specifically because it makes a mess and gets everywhere.  But if it is necessary to contain shredded paper in plastic bags, a system of multiple bags per shredder would increase security in all instances except where the bad guy is standing right there watching the shredded paper be thrown away.


Friday, June 01, 2018

How to ethically dispose of vintage pornography

From the Ethicist:
A female friend says she is planning to sell her late husband’s vintage collection of Playboy magazines, which she says are in excellent shape and worth a lot of money. Normally, this woman is a progressive feminist. Selling this “literature” would seem to run counter to ethical values in our “#MeToo” world. Am I off-base here?
A person who wanted to dispose of some vintage pornography while addressing these ethical concerns could do so by being very choosy about the buyer.  For example, they could sell them to people who plan to use them for academic research, or for an art project, or as set dressing for a movie with a historical setting. Perhaps they could even find some relevant organizations that take donations, so they aren't in the bizarre situation of posting a Craigslist ad "Playboy magazines for sale, non-lecherous inquiries only".

Of course, I understand completely if the seller doesn't want to do this. It would take time, energy and work to find a suitable recipient, and screening people to make sure they don't have lecherous intentions towards Playboy magazines could be an unpleasant interpersonal interaction.

But, nevertheless, that is how you would dispose of vintage pornography while addressing the ethical concerns raised in this letter.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Why I'm not happy with the Weather Network latest website redesign

Weather Network 7-day forecast

The default page for each city is the 7-day forecast, shown to the right. (Click to embiggen. The long and narrow shape is the result of Firefox's awesome screenshot function, which allows you to take a screenshot of the full page, rather than just what appears on screen.)

At the top of the page are the current conditions.  That part's good - that's exactly the information I'm looking for.

However, the next thing I'm looking for is the short-range forecast, which isn't there.  There are two small boxes below the current conditions giving a brief summary of the next two 12-hour periods (labelled "Tonight" and "Tuesday" in this screenshot), but that isn't sufficient information. At a minimum, I'm also looking for humidex/windchill (labelled as "Feels like" in these screenshots) and probability of precipitation (labelled "POP" in these screenshots), but they don't have that information on the default page for the short-range forecast. They just have those stingy, inadequate summary boxes with way too wordy a description and way too little quantitative information.

I do want to see the long-range forecast on the main page as well, and it's right there in a format that makes me happy, just below the row of news videos.  But without a proper short-range forecast, there's a gap in the information provided.


Weather Network 36-hour forecast
The short-range forecast can be found on the 36-hour page, shown to the left.  (Click to embiggen).  And all the information I'm looking for is right there, in a format that makes me happy, in the table just below the row of news videos.

However, the current conditions at the top are incomplete. They  have the sky condition with the temperature and humidex, but that's it. No wind speed, humidity, air quality, UV, etc.

This is a problem, because now I have to have two tabs open to get all the information I want, especially when I have weather-sensitive outdoor plans, or in shoulder seasons where I have to make multiple decisions throughout the day about heating/air conditioning, windows open/closed, blinds open/closed to keep my home comfortable.

For example, I'm currently trying to find a good time to wash my windows.  To do this, I need to know the current temperature, humidex, wind, humidity and sunset time, all of which are in the current conditions on the main 7-day page, but not all of which are on the 36-hour page.  I also need the temperature, POP, and wind for the next couple of days, all of which are on the 36-hour page but not the main 7-day page.  So what was a simple at-a-glance task with the Weather Network's old design now requires two tabs.

The best thing the Weather Network could do to fix this is remove the two small boxes ("Tonight" and "Tuesday" in the 7-day screenshot) from the 7-day page, and remove the row of news videos. Then they should put the 36-hour chart from the 36-hour page in their place.  This would give us the same at-a-glance skimmability we had on the old website.

If it really is important to separate 7-day and 36-day, the second most useful thing the Weather Network could do is put full current conditions on the 36-day page. This would provide a single-page at-a-glance of the information that updates most frequently throughout the day, and whose updates are most immediately relevant.  (In other words, if the overnight forecast changes, that becomes relevant to me far earlier than if the forecast four days from now changes.)

If they really, really, really can't do either of those things, one very simple thing they definitely can do is put humidex/windchill information in those two inadequate short-term boxes on the 7-day page ("Tonight" and "Tuesday" in the screenshot.)  They have the information, it appears in every other place in the forecast that mentions temperature, and there's room in the boxes.  I have no clue why they chose to omit it in that one very specific location, but that would be easily remedied.

And if they want a bold, innovative option, they could let users customize their own homepage, with the forecasts and data of their choice.  This would have the additional benefit (from the Weather Network's point of view) of incentivizing users to create accounts and stay logged in.  They've been trying for ages to convince me to create an account and I haven't seen the need to, but I'd do it in an instant if that were the price of admission for all the at-a-glance information I want on one page.  The technology exists - iGoogle did it in 2005!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Things They Should Invent: customize the user-facing appearance of Word without changing documents' appearance

As I'm dealing with vision issues resulting from my head injury, I've been contemplating whether changes to the appearance of my computer interface would make things easier for me. Perhaps a light grey or beige background rather than stark white? Perhaps a different font might be easier to read?

The problem is that, as a translator, I'm expected to deliver my translations with the same formatting and appearance as the client-provided source text.  So if I were to change the background colour or the font, I'd have to change it back before delivering the text. Since some texts have specific and complex client-provided formatting, changing it back would be time-consuming and increase the likelihood of introducing errors that would make the client unhappy.

I would really like to be able to change the appearance on my screen without changing the underlying formatting - like imposing my own style sheet upon what I see.  Web browsers have accessibility options that let you override a webpage's formatting - I'd also like to be able to do this in a Word document.

Early versions of Word (circa 1993) had the option of making the interface look like WordPerfect 5.1, which many users at the time would have been accustomed to. However, the final document wasn't grey text in whatever font that is on a blue background - the final document was text in the colour selected by the user, in the font selected by the user, on the background selected by the user.

Word could do this in 1993. So why not also do it now, so people with visual issues can work on an eye-friendly interface while creating a document that meets the graphic and/or layout standards of their employer or their client?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Things They Should Invent: Transitions lenses with manual override

Transitions lenses are those eyeglass lenses that automatically darken when exposed to bright light and then turn clear again under normal light conditions, with the intended goal of automatically switching back and forth between being sunglasses and clear glasses.

The problem is they don't always work as well as intended. Often the dark doesn't go away quickly enough, leaving the wearer looking dorky and awkward indoors. And sometimes the dark goes away when you're outdoors on a bright sunny day but briefly in the shade or wearing a hat or something, failing to protect the your eyes.

Solution:  a small, discreet button on the frame that will force the lenses to change manually. You step inside, the glasses don't change quickly enough for your liking, you press the button and it changes immediately.

Yes, I know clip-on sunglasses are a thing, but they're even dorkier. Effortlessly functional Transitions lenses in an attractive frame would address the fashion aspect without the expense of buying two completely different pairs of glasses.  And a manual override would make Transitions lenses effortlessly functional.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Things They Should Invent: use fruitless library catalogue searches to feed the library's acquisitions list

I heard about an upcoming book that sounds interesting, so I searched for it in the library catalogue. Unfortunately, it wasn't there yet.  But, instead of going to the trouble of putting in a request for them to acquire the book, I just figured I'd search again closer to the publication date, then wandered off to do something else.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this. Asking the library to acquire a specific book is A Whole Big Thing, and it may well already be ordered but not in the catalogue, or get ordered through whatever their normal channels are by the time the release date arrives.

But what if simply searching for a book and finding it isn't present in the catalogue could automatically inform the library that someone wants the book?

The library already knows what people are searching for.

The technology already exists to determine when a user arrives at a webpage and doesn't click on any of the outlinks (which, in this case, would be the books listed in the search results) and to generate a list of pages where this occurs - the free stat counter I use on my blog even has this functionality! This list could then be sorted in by frequency, to identify what multiple people are searching for but not finding.

Then the frequently-fruitless search terms would need to be compared with a list of current and forthcoming books. Does such a thing exist? I know Books In Print is a thing, I don't know if there's also a "Books Soon To Be In Print".  (Although even if there isn't, comparing frequently-fruitless searches with Books In Print could be useful in and of itself.)  I also don't know if it has some method to allow you to write your own program to search its database.  Google Books has an API, which might be a starting point (although I certainly can't rule out the possibility of there being better starting points that I haven't thought of.)

But comparing terms on List A with terms on List B is totally something a computer can do.  And once it's done, you've got a list of frequent fruitless searches that are also titles of books.  Which is most likely a list of book titles that people are searching the catalogue for but not finding.

Which seems like useful information to have when deciding which books to buy.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

How to treat your adult child like an adult

Imagine you wanted to prove that you are an excellent parent.  Think about all your child's characteristics or accomplishments that you'd cite as supporting evidence.

Assemble all these characteristics and accomplishments into a mental file, and whenever you talk to or behave in a way that affects your adult child, make sure your words and actions are fully informed by everything in that mental file.

For example, suppose you feel like a good parent because your child successfully launched and has a lucrative career that makes them happy.  Make sure that in your every dealing with your child, you treat them like someone who successfully launched and has a lucrative career that makes them happy.

Or suppose you feel like a good parent because you child is kind and caring.  Make sure that in every dealing with your child, you treat them like someone who is kind and caring.

This strategy can also be used on children who are not yet adults, to treat them with the amount of respect and consideration they deserve.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Half-formed idea for how to warn prospective tenants of bad neighbours

From The Ethicist:

I have a rental property, and the neighbors next door are extremely racist. We didn’t know this when we bought the house. We have had both white and Hispanic people as renters. The next-door neighbors harassed the Hispanics until they left. The white family had no issues getting along but did hear their racist rants. I cannot legally do anything about this behavior. Am I obligated to tell any prospective renters about this problem? I don’t want people to move in without knowing of it. If I do tell them, how do I phrase it so that I’m not perceived as discriminatory?

I know what to do to solve this problem, but I don't know how to get it done.

What you need is online reviews that turn up on the first page of Google results for the address, accurately describing the quality of the property and of your services as landlord, and accurately describing the neighbours' behaviour.  Then anyone who's interested can be warned about the neighbours and make decisions accordingly, but it won't come across as the landlord trying to dissuade tenants of certain ethnicities.

The problem, of course, is making online reviews happen. Working hard to convince former tenants to leave online reviews is bad form, and leaving them yourself as a landlord is outright inethical.

Nevertheless, the best medium for communicating this message is the voice of former tenants.

Monday, January 08, 2018

How the current Star Wars trilogy should end (no spoilers)

Evil is vanquished! Good has triumphed! Fireworks! Porg dance party! That couple you're shipping kisses!  All is right with the world!

Then, a "where are they now?" sort of epilogue, set 20-30 years in the future.  The most suitable of the surviving protagonists is now an eminent and well-respected political leader.  We see them, with a few dignified strands of grey carefully added by the make-up department, sitting in their office (carefully designed by the set department to look a bit more futuristic than the rest of the movies).

An aide walks in with a briefing note.

"Your Excellency," the aide begins, "Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute..."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Better advice for the LW who didn't want to disclose her surgery

While searching for another old post, I came upon this old post responding to an advice column where the letter-writer wanted to avoid disclosing the nature of her surgery to her co-workers.

In my previous blog post, I came up with a somewhat complex subterfuge approach. But upon rereading it, I came up with something much simpler that requires less subterfuge.  This is obviously now irrelevant to the LW, but here it is for any googlers.

First, the letter:
I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.

Dear LW,

If your budget permits, acquire some unflattering clothes that drape poorly and hide your figure.  Ideally do this some time before the surgery is scheduled. (It would be extra effective if the unflattering clothes were on-trend.) Start wearing the unflattering clothes as soon as possible.

Ideally, you do this long enough before the procedure that your unflattering clothes cease to be interesting or novel and just blend into the background.

Then go about life as usual, get your procedure when it's scheduled, and continue wearing your unflattering clothes for a period of time after the procedure.

Then after some time as passed (perhaps as the weather transitions into the next season) start wearing clothes that fit properly. If your pre-surgery clothes no longer fit your post-surgery body, start by transitioning from the unflattering clothes to your pre-surgery clothes, then (as you acquire them) to clothes that fit your post-surgery body. (Again, it would be extra effective if the more flattering clothes were on-trend.)


This way, the change in your body won't appear sudden, and your improved shape will appear at least partly attributable to to more flattering clothes.  If you can do both the unflattering and the flattering with trendy clothes, it will just look like the evolution of fashion.

(Another option is, if asked, to say the unflattering clothes are due to an unspecified medical situation that requires loose clothes.  I'm not sure whether this would be helpful or not.)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ideas for the Dear Prudence reader who's lying to her mother about fanfic reader counts

From a recent Dear Prudence chat:

Q. I lied to my mom ... how do I keep lying so I don’t get in trouble?: Last year, my mom was going through a rough time. She was depressed, and she came to me and said that she wanted to try her hand at writing. I write fan fiction, and my stuff is pretty good. So I created an account for her, and we published her writing as a fanfic. It didn’t do well. No follows, no favorites, no reviews. I didn’t want her to give up on her dream, so I created a few fake accounts and wrote a few reviews, followed her story. She was so happy. But then after a while she wondered why her number of readers wasn’t going up. So I showed her my page and pretended my readers were hers. I have more than a thousand readers, and she got extremely happy.
This went on for some time. She kept writing, and I kept posting her stuff. I kept writing and posting my stuff. My number of readers went higher and higher. Hers didn’t. Now she wants to get her story published. I wouldn’t mind, except she keeps mentioning the number of readers that she already has. I’m trying really hard not to panic, but I’m sure that I’m going to get caught. People are going to read it, and they’re going to tell her that it isn’t good. Then she’s going to bring up the number of fans that she thinks she already has, and they won’t believe her, then she’ll show them and the truth will come out and then she’s going to hate me and I don’t want her to hate me. How do I get out of this?

My first thought on reading this was about reader numbers and saleability. 

You say your mother thinks your readers are hers, and that you have "more than a thousand readers", which I assume means less than 2,000.

Conventional wisdom is that less than 1% of free online readers are willing to pay for a product. So even if your mother did have your over 1,000+ readers, that would mean there are no more than 20 (and likely fewer than 10) people willing to pay.

There's also the question of whether this 1,000+ represents unique readers or just hit count.  If it's hit count, at a minimum you need to divide the number by the number of chapters.  If it's a 10-chapter story, that would mean 100-200 unique readers - or, very optimistically, two people in the world willing to pay.  And that's before we even take into account people rereading the story. 

When I look up fanfic authors who have subsequently self-published (in the Jane Austen fandom), their AO3 hit counts were in the 10,000-20,000 range.  And that's self-publishing. The only fanfic I can think of that went on to getting published (i.e. by a publisher) was Fifty Shades of Grey, which, according to Fanlore had 56,000 reviews when it was taken down. Reviews, which is only a fraction of unique readers.


Even if you're unable or unwilling to disabuse your mother of the notion that your 1,000+ readers are hers, you can talk to her about how she's not even in the right order of magnitude to consider being published, with focus on how she should keep honing her craft.  (I mean, this half-assed blog of mine has about 10,000 unique readers a year, and I'm sure you'll agree that I'm nowhere near publication calibre!)

I doubt someone who can be tricked into thinking that your stats are hers could work out how to self-publish, but if she somehow did, a talk about numbers would prepare her for the possibility of no sales whatsoever.

In short, you don't have to worry about the reader count fraud coming up if she wants to publish, because even the fraudulent reader count isn't nearly high enough to make her a good bet for publishers or to guarantee any sales whatsoever.

So, either instead of or in addition to the other advice given, a chat with your mother about the proportion of free online readers that converts into sales would probably be helpful before she digs further into this publishing idea.

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.

Monday, February 06, 2017

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

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

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

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

What if there was an app for that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 05, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to the bringing kids to demonstrations dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What to do when you never have an opinion

An excerpt from a recent Captain Awkward question:
And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?
(I recommend clicking through and reading the whole question with all the background before commenting on LW's specific situation.)

I have seen this sort of situation ("my partner asks what I think and I genuinely don't have an opinion") mentioned various times in various relationship advice forums, and I have an idea for how to handle it:

If you genuinely don't have an opinion on a multiple-choice question and, for whatever reason, you don't want to respond with "I genuinely don't have an opinion," pick the choice that is presented to you first.

If the other person objects, cheerfully go along with whatever they prefer.

If you find yourself viscerally objecting to whatever the first choice is, congratulations, you've just developed an opinion!

And if this is something that happens repeatedly within a particular relationship, the other party will eventually (consciously or unconsciously) start to notice that you always pick the first option, and will begin to (consciously or unconsciously) list their own (conscious or unconscious) preference first. Then they'll feel like you're both perfectly in sync and everyone will be happy.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another way to improve any assisted dying legislation

A problem with attempts to legislate assisted dying is that they attempt to define in legislation what does and doesn't constitute a good enough reason to die, and thereby what does and doesn't constitute adequate quality of life. As life and death are infinite and complex, some things will almost certainly fall through the cracks.

At the same time, when legislation includes specific things that are considered acceptable reasons to want to die, some people who have those conditions or experiences but don't want to die sometimes take offence, as though society is telling them that they don't deserve to live.  And this push-back may lead legislators to be reluctant to include additional specific conditions, for fear of offending more constituents.

These problems could be mitigated with a single provision: if the patient wants to die because of the absence of a specific aspect of quality of life, and the patient does not have a reasonable chance of gaining or regaining that aspect of quality of life, the patient is permitted to die.

The advantage of this is it takes legislators out of the business of deciding what is and isn't deathworthy (or, depending on your perspective, lifeworthy). Each patient gets to set their own priorities.

In carrying this out, medical professionals should drill down and make sure they pinpoint the actual quality of life issue that's important to the patient, in case it could be addressed some other way.  For example, if a patient says "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed," what exactly is it about being paralyzed that makes them feel it's deathworthy? Are they afraid of never having sex again? Are they afraid of being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life? And are these things that actually happen if you're paralyzed, or are there workarounds that the patient doesn't know about?

If they pinpoint that what the patient actually fears is being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life, the living will would be edited from "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed" to "I want to die if I ever end up in a condition where I'm dependent on someone else to bathe me for the rest of my life," which not only addresses the actual problem, but also includes situations the patient didn't anticipate where they might end up unable to bathe themselves.  It would also tell the patient's medical team where to focus, so they can make a point of trying everything to enable the patient to bathe themselves.

In interviewing the patients to drill down and identify their actual concerns, medical professionals would need to be extremely careful not to be judgemental. They'd need to make very certain to treat every concern as completely valid, and not try to talk patients out of it or even react negatively if the concern sounds petty or shallow or superficial. I know this would be difficult for some corners of the medical profession where people see the direst aspects of the human experience every day and would feel inclined to laugh in the face of "I want to die if I can never again eat recreationally."

But if we can successfully legislate and implement a system where patients choose which aspects of quality of life they see as lifeworthy and deathworthy for themselves with the guidance and support of an empathetic and knowledgeable medical team, that will eliminate many potential problems of mislegislation.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

US gun money braindump

With the various US shootings in the news and a constant flow of information about how gun industry money is influencing US politics, my shower gave me the early foundations of an idea to disrupt the cycle.

I know I'm a foreigner and therefore this isn't my business at all, but it is an idea I haven't seen elsewhere, so I'm posting it in case it's useful to anyone.

We know that the pro-gun people's argument for having guns is that they need them for self-defence and/or they're used for perfectly valid sporting pursuits.

We know that there's a lot of firearm manufacturer money spent lobbying against any restrictions on owning or acquiring firearms.

My first idea to disrupt this was to make firearm manufacturers pay a fine whenever a product they make is used as a murder weapon.  This is intended to disincentivize manufacturers from lobbying against firearms restrictions, and possibly incentivize them to produce products that make mass murder less easy.

But, because of all this lobbying money, any law specifically targeting firearm manufacturers is unlikely to pass.

So my next idea was to be big and bold: all manufacturers of all products must pay a fine whenever a product they manufacture is used as a murder weapon.

Q: But wouldn't this result in all kinds of harm to all kinds of random businesses (many of whose products are far more vital and far less profitable than firearms)?

A: To mitigate that, I propose a progressive fine structure.  The fine to be paid is a percentage of the company's revenues (not profits, because those can be hidden with accounting).  It starts out as an extremely small percentage (like 0.01%), and that percentage increases (perhaps even doubles) with every subsequent murder. (I can make an argument for the percentage increasing every time there's a murder with any of the company's products, or for each individual product having its own tally.)  So if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and one very resourceful person comes up with a way to murder someone using a tube of mascara, you have to pay a tiny fine. But if you're a manufacturer of firearms or ammunition and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble.  (And, of course if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble too.)

Q: But why are you just focusing on murder? All kinds of people are shot in alleged self-defence or in accidents too, not to mention all the people who are injured, some of them seriously!

A: All these things are important too, and I have no objection to including them if it can be made workable. My thinking in focusing on murder is that it's far more difficult to argue with. By making policy that focuses strictly on murder weapons, you're not questioning the go-to arguments of self-defence or culturally-considered-legitimate sporting pursuits. You're not trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens or regular folks.  You are, in fact, agreeing with all the standard arguments about why guns should be allowed. It's just the bizarre, exceptional case of murderers that you're addressing - people who use the guns for the express purpose of going out to kill people.

Q: Wouldn't the focus on murder make people (perhaps with firearm-industry-provided lawyers) attempt to defend themselves with claims of self-defence or accidents?

A: Since murder is already a separate crime with a more severe sentence, people are already incentivized to do that. I don't know whether or not extra lawyering could make a difference.

Q: Why manufacturers? Why not retailers?

A: I have no objection to including retailers too. I'm focusing on manufacturers because I have the impression that that's where the lobbying money is coming from.

Q: So what do you expect manufacturers to actually do?

A: Primarily, to stop lobbying against various proposed legislation intended to stop guns from getting into the hands of dangerous people.

But they could perhaps also stop manufacturing guns that make it so easy to kill so many people.  For example, they could make guns that fire fewer rounds per minute, or that require the user to squeeze the trigger each time they want to fire a round rather than holding it down. I've seen mentions of certain types of ammunition being more lethal than others, so ammunition manufacturers could probably use that information to make ammunition that's less lethal. Perhaps they might also have the option of providing their products wholesale only to retailers with stricter security checks.

And, of course, they always have the option of doing nothing and bearing the risk of a massive fine that would put them out of business if someone should choose to use their products for mass murder.

Q: And what about manufacturers of other products who get caught up in this? What do you expect them to actually do?

A: If their products are being used as murder weapons on the same order of magnitude as guns, perhaps it would be a good thing for them to be incentivized to make these products less lethal!

Q: Might this disincentivize foreign companies from making their products available in the US?

A: It might, I don't know. Maybe if it does, and maybe if there's enough demand for the product in question, it could also boost the US manufacturing sector.

Q: And how do you propose getting this kind of legislation introduced when it's so obviously targeting firearms?

A: Wait until someone is murdered with an ordinary object that isn't intended as a weapon. Sensationalize the situation in the media, cite other historical cases of people being murdered with ordinary household objects that aren't intended as a weapon, and make it sound vitally important to introduce safety measures so ordinary household objects can't be used as murder weapons. Don't mention firearms at all.  Cars have had more and more safety measures introduced over the years, at least some of which have been required by law. Use the same spirit for everything, but without (at least initially) presuming to dictate what exactly the safety measures should be.  This is a country that managed to ban Kinder Eggs FFS - surely they can pass some anti-murder-weapon legislation if no one mentions the G word.