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

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.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

How to make a manual for new homes

I previously came up with the idea that developers should provide a user manual for new homes.  Today my shower gave me an idea for how that could be achieved effectively.

First of all, the manual wouldn't be an actual static manual, it would be a constantly-updated website, perhaps with a login to limit it to residents of the development if such a thing is thought to be necessary.

Homeowners are asked to report any problems they have to the developer, and the developer will provide free repairs/resolutions/instructions on preventive maintenance required to the first person to report each problem in exchange for being permitted to document it for the manual. 

The homeowner's privacy is protected throughout the process.  While the repair is photographed and videoed so the process can be fully documented, the homeowner doesn't appear in the photos or videos, and the homeowner can remove any identifying items and tidy the area before the documentation people come in.

Since only the first person to report the problem gets the free resolution, the cost to the developer wouldn't be very much, relatively speaking. It would be no more than the total maintenance cost of one unit over its lifetime (minus any repeated maintenance activities), and would probably turn out to be less because not all homeowners would be interested in participating and it's possible that no one would bother to call the developer for certain very basic maintenance activities (e.g. changing a lightbulb).  Given that each development has many units (my condo has nearly 400), and that developers tend to make multiple similar developments (many aspects of my condo operate the same as my apartment, which was built by the same developer), this is negligible compared with the number of customers served.

On top of that, to properly document a procedure with photos and videos you have to actually carry out the procedure.  So developing the manual this way wouldn't cost anything more than staging it for the cameras, and would save the time and effort of planning what should go into the manual, because the natural course of the homeowners' maintenance problems would make that decision for them.

This would be an excellent way for a developer to make customers feel like they're being taken care of, and would make that developer particularly attractive to first-time buyers who are perfectly positioned to start developing brand loyalty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Things They Should Invent: use hospital volunteers to eliminate the need for patients to have support people

I recently blogged about the problem of the medical system requiring patients to provide their own support people.  In the comments of that post, I realized the solution: use existing hospital volunteer programs to provide support people for patients who don't have their own.

Many, if not most, if not all hospitals already have volunteer programs, complete with established recruitment, screening and training mechanisms, and one or more people whose whole job is to coordinate volunteers and generally make all this happen. They have a whole existing network and infrastructure for finding people who are able and willing to do non-medical tasks in a medical setting at no cost, and they do this every single day as an intrinsic part of the daily operations of the hospital.

Patients don't have anything like this at their disposal. Most people spend only a minute fraction of their lives receiving medical care, so their lives and their networks are not set up to find someone to fill this need.  Some people may well have someone who is able and willing and available, but that's really a fluke convergence of factors and in no way a sound basis for policy.

For the hospital to wash their hands of providing a helper and leave it entirely up to the patient fall under this kind of assholic risk-shifty behaviour we've been trying to coin a good name for.

At this point, some people are probably thinking "But you can't just have some random taking drugged patients home! They could hurt them or abduct them!"  But hospitals already have screening mechanisms for people who work directly with vulnerable patients, as evidenced by the existence of baby cuddling programs. There have been cases of people trying to abduct newborns from hospitals, so the hospital must have a way to screen these volunteers for trustworthiness.  And, again, the hospital, which does this all the time, would most likely have better screening mechanisms than a desperate patient.

And some people are probably thinking "But not all medical procedures are performed in hospitals - some of them are performed in clinics or doctors' offices."  I have three thoughts about that. First, even if hospital volunteers were just used for procedures done in hospitals, that would be an improvement over the status quo of every patient having to find a support person or they can't get their procedure. Second, some doctors and clinics are associated with a certain hospital, so that hospital's volunteers could help those doctors and clinics. Third, they could set up a volunteer program to take care of this need (and any others where volunteers might be helpful) in non-hospital medical contexts. Perhaps this could be done at the LHIN level, by hiring an experienced hospital volunteer coordinator to set up the program.

Of course, there's also the question of whether this should actually be unpaid labour. And I certainly have no objection to making this (and other volunteer duties) a paid role, and being cared for at every step of the process by fully trained, well-paid professionals.  However, the current status quo is that patients are being left to find their own volunteers, and a significant improvement over that status quo would be to use existing volunteer infrastructure rather than leaving patients at the mercy of the vagaries of their personal networks.  People who need medical care don't have time to wait until the government can be convinced to create more jobs.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Things Microsoft Word Should Invent (multilingual spellchecking edition)

1. Display all spelling and grammar errors, no matter how much it slows down the program

If your Word document has too many of the red squiggles indicating spelling errors as detected by the spellchecker, it gives you a warning saying there are too many spelling and grammar errors to continue displaying them.  Then all the red squiggles go away and, if you want to spellcheck, you have to select the spellcheck function from the menu and let the spellcheck program crawl the document rather than correcting red squiggles as you go.

The red squiggles are important to my translation process, and not just for spellchecking purposes.  They show me at a glance where I have and haven't translated, as the text in one language is going to be full of red squiggles when the spellchecker is set to the other language.  This is particularly relevant in very long documents (which I don't always translate linearly) and for bilingual documents - which are also the two kinds of documents that are most likely to involve a phase of the translation process where there are too many red squiggles regardless of whether the proofing language is set to the source language or the target language.

So I want a "Show spelling and grammar errors, no matter what, no matter how many there are, no matter how much it slows down the program" option. Just give me my red squiggles - I'll wait! And if I find it is in fact too slow, I can turn them off, and then turn them back on when I particularly need them.

(Yes, I know you're supposed to be able to mark different sections of the document as different languages or tell Word not to spellcheck a certain section, but in practice I find those functions are hit and miss.  Sometimes I tell it over and over again that the left column is English and the right column is French, or that I don't want it to spellcheck the first six pages, but it just doesn't take.  Same with turning the red squiggles back on after I've translated the whole document - sometimes it just says there are too many spelling and grammar errors without even recounting.  I suppose another option would be to make these functions work reliably.)

2. Add phrases to the spellcheck dictionary

In some circumstances, for certain combinations of genre, context and audience, I have to leave official names in the source language rather than translating them into English. Of course, this means they show up as errors in my spellchecking, even though they're not.

I want to be able to add these official names to the spellcheck dictionary, so it doesn't give them red squiggles and corrects them if I make a typo.  However, I don't want to add the individual words to the dictionary, because taken individually they would still be untranslated words and/or typos. I just want spellcheck to recognize the phrase. For example, I want it to recognize that "Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire" is supposed to be there, but the individual words "ministère" and "affaires" and "municipales" and "territoire", when they don't appear in that exact phrase, are not supposed to be there.   

Computers can do this. Search functions have "whole words only" or "exact phrase only" options. And the error detection aspect of spellchecking is basically a search function (i.e. find all the words on this list, then put red squiggles under all the other words). So they should be able to create this option and thereby help reduce the risk of making typos when some words are in another language that hasn't lived in the user's fingers for as long.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

How to end ticket scalping with two simple rules

1. All venues must allow purchasers to return tickets for a full refund.
2. All venues must maintain a waiting list of people who would like to buy any tickets might get returned.

So if you're a regular person who finds yourself unable to attend the event you bought a ticket for, you can get your money back no problem. And if you're a regular person who was signed in with the fan presale code and pressing refresh right at 10:00 but still didn't get through, you will be automatically put in line for any tickets that might become available.

This creates a situation where there is no legitimate resale market, since anyone who has experienced a perfectly innocent change of plans can simply return their tickets to the venue for a full refund.

It also creates, at a minimum, a strong disincentive to buy from resellers at inflated prices until very shortly before the event.  If you aren't able to get through for the presale and instead get waitlisted, you aren't going to go running straight to stubhub. You're going to wait at least a few weeks and see if you get tickets through the waitlist.  People might still want to buy from resellers if they haven't gotten waitlist tickets and the event is just days or hours away, but resellers might also be incentivized to return their unsold tickets to the box office for a refund so they don't have to eat the cost.

They could just introduce these rules and see what happens, or they could get more proactive and add a rule that selling tickets by any means other than through the venue is prohibited.  (They could also write an exception saying that a person who is attending the event can sell the other tickets they purchased in the same block at face value, to permit situations where each member of a group pays for their own tickets, but one person makes the actual purchase so everyone can sit together).

But, regardless of the enforcement details, these two simple rules - both of which could be executed automatically by a computer program - would create a situation where legitimate ticketholders have no reason to resell and where it's far easier for legitimate customers to carry out the scalper boycott that those in the know seem to agree is necessary to once again make it feasible for people who actually want to see the show to be able to buy tickets.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to improve assisted dying legislation with one simple rule

I've been reading about the various flaws in the current assisted dying legislation, and my shower gave me an idea of a simple way to improve it, or any other assisted dying legislation really.

I propose that, in addition to whatever categories of patients legislators deem acceptable candidates for assisted dying, any patient who has tried everything and still wants to die is permitted access to assisted death.

I don't think this is anywhere near a whole solution, but I do think it's a (relatively) easy rule that is unobjectionable to as many people as possible and achieves a number of things:

1. It catches the patients that legislators didn't think of. People generally want to impose restrictions on access to physician-assisted dying because they have various "What if?" scenarios in mind that they want to prevent, and they try to write restrictions that address those scenarios.  But, apart from people who don't want anyone to die at all ever, I doubt any of the scenarios people are thinking of preventing include cases where absolutely everything has been tried and the patient still can't bear to go on living.

2. It could create an additional path to help patients access treatments they haven't been offered yet. Sometimes you hear about situations where doctors simply rule out the possibility of certain potential treatments on grounds that the patient might not agree with (e.g. to protect the patient's fertility). But if applying for physician-assisted dying triggers a review of what has been tried so far and a protocol for trying everything else, when they say "We can't offer you death without first trying to remove your ovaries to see if it helps," you can say "Great, let's do that!"

3. It provides hope for all patients.  Even if you don't qualify for assisted dying right this second, you can get there just by following the standard protocol of trying, ruling out and refining treatments.  It will take time and difficulty, but you can get there. Every unsuccessful treatment you attempt is a step towards being put out of your misery.

4. It provides a built-in waiting period. Many people who are opposed to death at will cite first-hand or third-hand experiences of wanting to die but then, after some time passes, not wanting to die any more. Their concern that the desire to die might go away with time would be addressed by all the time it takes to proceed through all the treatments, which makes them less likely to oppose this rule.


At this point, you're probably wondering about the definition of "everything". Does that mean you have to try every single medication in existence, or just a representative sample? Do you have to try alternative medicine? What if it's unproven? Do you have to participate in clinical trials?

And what if you can't afford the prescriptions or alternative medicine treatment? What if you can't get into the clinical trials?

First of all, I think the Try Everything rule could be implemented immediately before these points are addressed, with the understanding that we will take the time to examine the nuances and refine the definition of "everything".  This will provide immediate  access for a (admittedly very small) number of people who may have otherwise slipped through the cracks but whose death by choice is as unobjectionable as possible, because they already have tried everything and have documented evidence of this.

Then, the process of working on refining the definition of "everything" could leverage the Anti-Death No Matter What lobby to improve access to medical care in general. Currently, they seem to be limited to saying "No death! Death is Bad!"  But this would give them positive things to lobby for that would serve as obstacles to death, but also help everyone in the meantime.  For example, it's not reasonable to expect people to try every prescription medication if the cost is prohibitive. So now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for pharmacare.  It's not reasonable to demand that people try alternative medicine that's unproven and not covered by OHIP, so now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for alternative medicine to undergo clinical testing, and for treatments that turn out to be proven by clinical testing to get covered by OHIP.


Of course, this comes nowhere near addressing all the problems with assisted dying legislation.  Notably, it does nothing about the lack of ability to provide an advance directive. But, nevertheless, expanding assisted death availability to include patients who have tried everything would fill in some gaps while being consistent with the spirit and intent of the legislation.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Downton AU fanfiction bunny, free for the taking (Salt of Sorrel is Eaten, Everyone Dies)

In the very first episode of Downton Abbey, there's a scene in which Daisy almost sends a dish of poisonous cleaning product (which the internet tells me is salt of sorrel) up to the dinner table instead of a dish of garnish (which the internet tells me is chopped egg).  Disaster is averted at the last minute ("I'll never do anything simple again, I swear it, not till I die!"), but what if it wasn't?

It would be interesting to see an AU where the salt of sorrel goes up onto the dining table, and some or all of the Crawleys are poisoned and die, depending on feasibility (How lethal is it? How fast-acting is it? Given that people are served food in a certain order, is it plausible for everyone to ingest the poison or would the last people to be served notice something is amiss?) and plot requirements.  (Yes, one or more of the servants would probably be charged with murder and sentenced to death and I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of that for them, but what happens afterwards is where the potential for an interesting story lies.)

For example, suppose all the Crawleys die. Matthew then inherits an empty manor house with a full complement of servants.  What does he do with it?  How does he do right by all the people who depend on the house for their livelihood?

Or suppose only Robert dies.  Matthew inherits a manor house that is currently home to four women he's never met.  He might be inclined to leave it alone and just let them live out their lives while he goes back to lawyering in Manchester. Is that feasible or would he have to be at Downton? Of course, Mary would probably still be highly incentivized to try to marry him. How would that play out? How would he feel about the attentions of a woman who's completely at his mercy for her livelihood?

Suppose only Robert lives. He's in mourning, of course. But he no longer has to worry about securing his daughters' future by marrying one of them to his heir. Would he be incentivized to remarry, even in his grief, so he could have a chance of having a son?  Until such time (if any) as he has a son, what would his relationship with Matthew be like? 

Suppose only Sybil lives. She's still a minor (i.e. not "out") at the beginning of the series. Can she stay at Downton? Would she have to go to America and live with her grandparents there? Or live in London with Lady Rosamund? (Or was Lady Rosamund at this dinner?) The internet suggests that during that era, someone her age could get married with parental consent. I don't know what happens if they don't have parents. I also don't know if Sybil would have it in her to try to win Matthew's affections just because he now owns her home, but desperation leads people to do strange things.  Or would she just run off with the chauffeur?

Suppose only Edith and Sybil live. Edith is a legal adult, she may well be able to have custody of Sybil. What kind of person will she grow into without her glorious war of sisterly rivalry?  She may want to try to marry Matthew to secure her and her sister's livelihood, or, if not, to marry someone else. One thing I noticed throughout the series is that, prior to being left at the altar by Sir Anthony, Edith was actually quite diligent at (what would have been in that setting and era) her job of finding a suitable husband. She took all the right steps, put herself out there, offered and accepted invitations to appropriate activities with appropriate people - she just never ended up getting married.  It would have been the Edwardian equivalent of a newly orphaned young adult diligently trying to find a job to support herself and her minor sibling so they don't have to be separated.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Downton Abbey thoughts (full spoilers)

- Much like I was disappointed about not seeing Tom and Sybil's life in Ireland, I was disapopinted about not seeing Tom and Sybbie's life in Boston.  Where did they live? What was the childcare situation? How did Sybbie adjust to living somewhere smaller? After growing up in a manor house, did she have any 5-year-old equivalents of a "What is a weekend?" moment?

- I'm glad they cast child actors who are capable of delivering the odd punchline!

- At one point, Mary tells the guy she ends up marrying that George inherits Robert's title "For reasons too complicated to bore you with."  That's 8 words and 12 syllables.  But "My late husband was my father's heir" is 7 words and 9 syllables!  It would be shorter to explain it!

- (Also the guy Mary ends up marrying and the guy Edith ends up marrying look too similar and I find their names psychologically interchangeable.  I kept getting them mixed up throughout the entire series. Couldn't they get more distinctive actors with more distinctive names?)

- At another point Robert bemoans the fact that Mary decides not to marry Tony on the grounds that "she isn't thinking about her future" or something similar (I can't find the exact quote). But she is exactly thinking about her future, and, more importantly, her son's future.  If she married Tony, she'd be mistress of his estate and wouldn't be able to care for Downton for George.  And if she has a son with Tony, she'd have another heir of another estate who also needs her attention just as much. To do right by George, she needed to marry someone who doesn't have an estate.

- At one point, it's mentioned that Edith doesn't use a lady's maid. I really want to know how she does her awesome hair without a maid's help! They could totally have showed it in passing in a dressing scene that serves as a background for plot-forwarding dialogue.

- Since Mary cut her hair, I thought the scenes of Anna brushing Mary's hair looked ridiculous. The brush was too big and Anna's brush strokes looked too gentle and ineffective.  But I later realized that this was a demonstration of the statement often repeated throughout the season that lady's maids were less necessary in these modern times! Anna's not doing anything with Mary's hair that Mary couldn't do herself just as easily (if not more so). 

- You know how there are political astroturfers who make twitter accounts with egg avatars, follow hashtags, and chime into other people's conversations hurling abuse against their employer's opponent? (Ubhmeathán!) Turns out they have those in the Downton Abbey twitter community! There are random eggs spreading anti-Edith and pro-Mary propaganda!

- But it does occur to me that Lady Mary wouldn't be above hiring an astroturfer. So that's an excellent role-play by that random twitter egg!

- This series jossed parts of my WWII Downton sequel idea, but I think we're still ripe for a WWII sequel:
  •  The kids will all be an appropriate age for military service or nursing or war work or whatever the plot needs them to do.
  •  Marigold could learn that her biological father was killed by Nazis and join some elite intelligence unit to help avenge his death.
  • George's military service (when he's probably too young to have married or produced a heir of his own) could create another succession crisis if they want to mirror that plotline.  
  • I was hoping the Bates baby could be a girl so George could marry her or want to marry her or cause a scandal about marrying her, but since he's a boy he could be George's batman, mirroring the relationship between Robert and Bates.
  • (Sybbie will marry that random little boy who wandered into Robert's room during the open house, because of course she will.) 
  • I had the idea of Lady Rose reuniting with her jazz singer in WWII London, but now that she's in the US she could reunite with him whenever the plot requires. Surely having a Jewish husband could inspire her into some social justice cause during WWII, and then this could be leveraged to make her eventuallybecome a US Civil Rights activist!
  • I'm glad that Thomas is now the butler, because I always liked the idea of the next generation of Downton having this scheming evil butler who's completely loyal to the new heir.  That would certainly be an interesting dynamic to play with.  Thomas may have had a last-minute heel-face turn, but I'm sure he's still capable of a good scheme, and we know he's loyal to George and to Sybbie, so the plot potential is there. Thomas was also a medic and helped run the convalescent home in WWI so an excuse could be found to drop him into any war-related plotline.
  • I also recently read that the real house used to film Downton was used to house evacuee children during WWII, which would be an interesting plotline!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How to reboot Are You Being Served?

I was very surprised to hear that they're rebooting Are You Being Served? because that show is very much a product of its time and totally out of step with modern comedic sensibilities.

But then my shower gave me an idea of how this might be carried off.

Grace Brothers a struggling department store, conveniently located in London's West End so as to create a situation where all its sales staff are struggling actors, working in the store as a day job until they get their big break.

The sales staff are established as modern, relatable people - savvy, witty, reasonably worldly, aware of irony, texting and snapchatting, dressed like regular Londoners. They're also very good at their jobs as clothing salespeople, able to serve as personal shoppers and do alterations and bra-fitting and such, but in this modern world there's simply less call for this sort of service.

Then store management hands down a new dictum: in an attempt to boost sales and draw people back into the store, they're going for nostalgia. There is now a dress code - suits for the men, brown jumpers for the ladies, and all kinds of finicky rules about who's allowed to wear what kind of hat and how many frills you're allowed to have on your blouse. Staff are ordered to address each other as Mr./Mrs./Ms. Surname, and strict scripts are introduced, such as "Mr. Humphries, are you free?" and "Are you being served, Madam?"

The staff thinks this is ridiculous, so, being actors, they decide to make it a game. They see their new dress code as costumes, and start getting some character acting practice in when dealing with customers and management.  They do their job and do it as well as possible under the circumstances, but they do so while playing over-the-top roles and having a standing wager to see who can utter the most double-entendres. It's an ongoing improv game, creating foolish, outdated characters to go with store management's foolish, outdated vision. Also the fact that they're all actors creates an opportunity for song and dance numbers as sometimes occurred in the original - someone has an audition piece, they're yes-anding the fuck out of something that happens on the floor, etc.

Even as over-the-top improve characters played ironically, it would still take quite a delicate bit of writing to have the original Are You Being Served? characters work in the 21st century.  I mean, Mr. Humphries' whole schtick is that he has stereotypically gay mannerisms, and that's supposed to be intrinsically funny in and of itself. No competent writer or performer would think of that as a viable comedic choice in the 21st century!!

But that gives me the idea (which may or may not actually be a good idea) that perhaps the actors staffing Grace Brothers are not actually good actors.  (That's why they're working a struggling department store!) And the broad characters of Are You Being Served? are a result of their imperfect acting/improv skills. For example, Miss Brahms is a creation of an American actress who thinks she's speaking with a posh English accent, but it actually comes out Cockney.  Mrs. Slocombe is an attractive middle-aged woman trying to play a young hipster character, but her bold hair colours and makeup are actually unflattering and make her look even older than she actually is. Mr. Humphries is the creation of a Michael Scott type with no sense of judgement or appropriateness, but the character goes over well with customers (who have no clue that he's meant to be a joke and simply think he's fabulous) so no one stops him.

Or maybe that's what the original Are You Being Served? was doing all along...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Things They Should Invent: streetlights with time-sensitive variable brightness

I was walking down a residential side street at about 5:30 pm in the bleakest depths of December, and I found it uncomfortably dark.  The street did have perfectly normal streetlights at perfectly reasonable intervals, but I found myself wishing the lights were significantly brighter.

Of course, the problem with making the lights significantly brighter is that they're right in front of people's houses.  No one wants a giant floodlight just metres from their window in the middle of the night when they're trying to sleep.

But what if they could program the streetlights so they start out brighter in the early evening and get less bright as we transition towards bedtime? We could have a safe, well-lit rush hour even in bleakest midwinter, while still making it possible for people who have a streetlight in front of their house to sleep comfortably at midnight.

In the summer, when it doesn't get dark until 9 pm, the streetlights wouldn't have to start out as bright as they do in the winter, but they could still dim as the hour gets later.  In other words, the streetlights are the same brightness at 9 pm in June and at 9 pm in December, they're just brighter at 5 pm in December (but completely switched off at 5 pm in June because it's still bright and sunny out.)  They wouldn't ever get darker than they are now, they'd just get brighter during hours when no one is anywhere near ready for sleep.

We already have the technology. Dimmer switches have existed for decades (I was originally going to title this "dimmer streetlights" but that would make it sound like I just want the streetlights to be less bright), and programmable dimmers already exist in household products such as the Phillips Wake-Up Light.  If they can deploy this technology on a large scale in streetlights, our streets would be safer and more user-friendly for the vast majority of users.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Puddle-proofing crosswalks

In the winter, big slushy puddles tend to form in crosswalks, making things difficult for everyone. Pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk have to attempt a grand jeté or ruin their boots, people walking near the intersection get splashed by passing cars, it's just no good at all.

So what if they put the storm sewers actually in the crosswalk, where the water seems to want to be?

If it would cause accessibility issues, they could put the sewer grates at the apex of the corner, where it would be directly in your path if you were trying to cross diagonally but easily avoidable if you're crossing within the crosswalk. 

Another option would be to raise the corner of the road slightly.  Maybe instead of having a cutaway on the sidewalk, they could raise the level of the road and create a ramp within the gutter zone rather than within the sidewalk zone, or maybe they could meet each other halfway.  Then water would have no reason to accumulate right where people are walking. 

Another option would be to have the entire gutters be lower than the road but covered with a grate at road level.  So instead of the water flowing along the road until it reaches a storm sewer (and causing puddles if it reaches an impasse), it flows along below road level, and has a lot more leeway before it causes disruptive puddles.

What if some copies of popular library books didn't have a space on the shelf?

If you follow me on twitter, you know I've been getting irritated with the Toronto Public Library having only ebooks and no print copies of certain titles. I find reading electronically inconvenient, and the app you have to use to read library ebooks extra inconvenient. So far, if a book hasn't been available in print, I just haven't added it to my list.

But I was quite baffled to find that Down the Rabbit Hole, the anthology containing the latest In Death novella, is not available in print at all!  In Death is a long-running series with over 50 titles, and every single title, including the anthologies containing the other novellas, is available from the library in print. But not this one.  Even the next book, Brotherhood in Death, which isn't due to come out until February, is already on order and holdable in print.  There's certainly precedent!

This is especially mysterious since the library has publicly spoken out against unfairly high ebook prices, so you'd think with ebooks being unfairly expensive they buy more print copies and fewer electronic copies.  (Or, since libraries are given a limited number of uses for each copy of an ebook they buy, they'd at least give customers the option of reading on paper if that's what they prefer.)  In the press release, the Chief Librarian is quoted as saying "Ensuring universal access to information in all its forms is key to public libraries’ mandate."  Surely ensuring access to information in all its forms includes in print!

But a comment conversation here made me think that the reason for not getting paper copies of everything might be lack of physical shelf space! Which gave me an idea...

If the problem is in fact shelf space, what if, for books where the library acquires a large number of copies and anticipates many times that number of holds, a certain number of copies aren't assigned a space on a shelf in a branch?  They just circulate throughout the holds system and are sent to the next customer in the holds queue. These kinds of titles rarely make it to a library shelf in the first few months of their life anyway - they're either checked out, on a hold shelf, or in transit.  Perhaps the computer could be programmed to prioritize these "non-shelf" books when allocating which book will respond to the next hold.  This would also increase the likelihood that "shelf" books (i.e. those that are assigned a space on a shelf in a branch) will be found by customers who are browsing the shelves, rather than being off circulating in hold land.

Once the ratio of holds to available copies gets below a certain threshold, the non-shelf books are pulled from circulation and sold, as already happens eventually with a certain number of copies of books with high initial demand.

So what does this achieve?  If not all copies of high-demand, high-circulation books need a space on the shelf, there's more space on the shelf for other books.  So titles that are perhaps less important and have less demand can have just a few spaces on the shelf, thereby making it possible to have a non-zero number of print copies and for customers to enjoy the book in their preferred medium.

For example, the library currently has 138 copies of Devoted in Death, the full-length In Death novel that comes before Down the Rabbit Hole. Currently, there are 45 holds on this title, but almost all the copies are checked out (and those that aren't are on the Best Bets shelf), so if some of the copies of this book were non-shelf, they'd still be doing their job, two months after release date, and probably for at least another month (assuming no new holds).

When Down the Rabbit Hole was first released, there were 80 holds for the 20 available copies, which means it will take 4 lending periods (12 weeks) for everyone to get a chance to read it. Let's use a conservative estimate that 10% of those holds are people who would prefer to read in print but are putting a hold on the only version available. (I suspect it's far more given the hold patterns on previous anthologies, but for the moment let's assume the library has a good sense of where the demand is.)  If the library had just 2 print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole, these hypothetical 8 people who would rather have print copies could also get a chance to read the book in their preferred format within 4 lending periods, thereby providing equitable access in all formats.

If the library designated just two copies of Devoted in Death as non-shelf books, there would still be at least one copy for the shelves of each branch, and there'd also be room on the shelves for two print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole. The non-shelf books would be in full circulation for several months and then could be put straight into the used book sale - where maybe they could even charge a bit extra for them because they're still recent bestsellers.

If this were done on a larger scale, with a small number of non-shelf copies of high-demand titles, then perhaps the library could have one or two print copies of every book, so that everyone could access every title in their preferred format with no negative impact on the availability of high-demand titles.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Compromises from this week's Ethicist

When I read this week's Ethicist, I kept coming up with ideas for compromises.

My husband’s sister died recently, after a short, unhappy life. In her will, she asked that her ashes be scattered in the ocean near a place she lived during one of the brief happy times of her adult life. Instead, my mother-in-law interred the ashes in a family plot near her home, saying that she needed a focal point for her grief. I realize that life is for the living, and none of us believe that my sister-in-law is watching the proceedings from on high. But I nevertheless feel viscerally appalled by this cavalier contravention of her last wishes. Am I right to be upset? Do we have ethical obligations to the dead? NAME WITHHELD
I wonder if a reasonable compromise if a survivor wants to keep ashes but the deceased wanted them scattered would be for the survivor to keep them for the time being and to provide in their will for the disposition of the ashes in accordance with the deceased's wishes.  Interring them wouldn't be appropriate, but what if the mother kept them in an urn on the mantelpiece for the rest of her life, and then stated in her own will that they were to be scattered in the ocean per her daugther's wishes?

I am a librarian at a large public university. Our library administrators, following a current fad, plan to radically ‘‘downsize’’ the library collection (i.e. throw out a lot of books). Essentially, anything in the general collection that hasn’t been checked out in the past few years is going straight to the trash-hauling bin. I believe that this poorly planned weeding project will do serious damage to a very valuable public resource and that if local researchers knew the scope of devastation underway, they would have strong objections. I have been outspoken enough about my opinion to be in hot water with said administrators. Do I have an ethical responsibility to persist in whistle-blowing? How much personal trouble am I ethically obliged to cause for myself in order to oppose an administrative decision that I believe is not just damaging to our organizational mission but stupid and wrong? NAME WITHHELD
What if, before throwing out the books, they attempted to give them away?  Inform the university community and any other networks of local researchers, and let them salvage whatever they want before it goes straight to the dumpster.  That's not to say that doing this would completely mitigate any detrimental impact, but, from a purely pragmatic perspective, LW's employers may well be more receptive to "Here's a zero-cost way to improve the optics of our plan while better fulfilling our mandate!" than they would be to "No, your plan is bad and wrong! Don't do it!"

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Things They Should Invent: different heating/air-conditioning by-laws for different kinds of buildings

My apartment retains heat.  It holds onto the heat generated by appliances and electronics and me, and heats up as the morning sun shines through the windows.  In the summer, temperature gets warm enough for the thermostat to turn on the air conditioning turns every single day when there's morning sun (and many days when there isn't).

However, because it retains heat so well, in the winter the temperature gets cool enough for the thermostat to turn on the heating an average of one day per year.  Last year it was zero days.  And it only gets that cool if we have the confluence of two sunless mornings plus strong easterly wind plus I don't use the stove during those days.

Because of this, I feel quite strongly that air conditioning is far more important than heating, and would like residential tenancy by-laws to be rewritten so that they don't prioritize heat over air conditioning.

However, not everyone feels this way.  Quite often when I mention it on the internet, someone complains most vehemently that heating is clearly far more important than air conditioning! People would freeze to death if they had to be in a building with no heat, they argue.  I've never been in such a building myself, but they must exist to lead people to feel that way.  If everyone was warm, it wouldn't occur to them that could could be a problem

I previously blogged that they should study whether heat or cold is a problem for more buildings.  But now that I think about it some more, that's actually a red herring.

What they should really do is give buildings a rating for how likely it is to get too warm vs. too cold, and have different by-laws for buildings with different ratings.  Ratings would be determined by an inspection of the building in the summer and in the winter, or some other similarly reliable method. Repeat inspections may be required every X years if buildings evolve or deteriorate enough to justify this.

It could be a simple system with only two ratings ("air conditioning priority building" vs. "heat priority building"), or three ratings ("air conditioning priority building" vs. "heat priority building" vs. "neutral building"), or there could be a more nuanced scale where buildings are given a rating between 1-5 or 1-100 or whatever makes sense.

Using an extremely simple example, suppose buildings are rated "air conditioning priority" or "heat priority", and suppose they continue to use the current calendar-based by-law system rather than switching to a temperature-based system as some recommend.  Heat priority buildings would continue with the current system where the landlord is required to provide heat between September 15 and June 1.  But in air conditioning priority buildings, the landlord would only be required to provide heat between, say, November 1 and April 1.  Or, perhaps, the landlord would be explicitly required to provide air conditioning between May 1 and September 15 (with no explicit requirement of heat, as an analogue to the current lack of explicit requirement of air conditioning).

Basically, the by-laws should be flexible enough to take into account the fact that different buildings of different construction may require different courses of action to provide a comfortable home for tenants.  A one size fits all rule won't work in a city that ranges from Victorian detached houses to glass highrises.