Showing posts with label things i don't understand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label things i don't understand. Show all posts

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do politicians want people to telephone them?

Recently, a greater than usual amount of instructions for political activism has been reaching me, and a common theme seems to be to telephone politicians. The instructions are to tell the person who answers the phone that you would like the politician to take or stop taking a particular action, and tell them any personal stories that support this request.

But why on earth would the telephone be the optimal medium for political activism?

If you telephone an elected official's office, someone has to answer the call. If you tell them an anecdote, someone has to write it down.  If they have a case tracking system, the person who answers the phone has to enter their notes into the case tracking system. The whole process moves at the speed of human speech, and is subject to transcription errors on the part of the person answering the phone, and dictation errors (as well as general human error and any lack of preparedness that's borne of inexperience) on the part of the person making the call. This is especially egregious because less-experienced phone-callers have to write up a script for themselves, which they read to the phone-answerer, who transcribes it into whatever system the political office uses.

But if you send them an email, the message will reach your political official (or enter their automated system) in your own words, either by copy-paste or through an automated algorithm. No human intervention, no possibility of human error, and also no staffing expenses to deal with your inquiry. It's faster for political staff (reading is faster than typing) and might also be no less slow for the citizen if - like me - they'd have to write up a script before making a phone call, or - like me - they can type at the speed of speech anyway. There's no human error, because your very own words either reach the politico directly or are entered into the automated system. From the point of view of the politico, they can get their constituents' POV straight from the constituents' mouth, and/or get their constituents' POV without having to pay the salary of political staff who run itnerference.

So how did it come about that a telephone call is considered the most effective way to reach politicians?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spotted in the wild: a person who can leave the house without a plan

I previously blogged about how baffled I am that there are apparently people who can leave the house without a plan. One of these people was seen in the wild in a recent Ask A Manager column:

I have been working at my job (a Fortune 500 company) for nine months, after I graduated college last year.

My boss and I went to a business lunch and he drank a lot. He was upset that I couldn’t drive us back to the office because I don’t have a driver’s license. He assumed I did. He didn’t tell me to drive until we were in the parking lot. I have epilepsy that makes me have seizures in my sleep. I have never had one when I an awake, but because it’s still epilepsy, I am not allowed to drive by law. I live in a large city with buses, cabs, and a subway, so I get along just fine if none of my family or friends can drive me.

I refused even though he insisted, and we had to take a cab back to the office and my boss had to take a cab back to get his company car the next day. Instead of expensing it, my boss and his boss want me to pay both cab fares. My boss said I should have told him I can’t drive. I work a desk job with no driving component and it was not mentioned in the requirements for my job. The cab fares totaled over $100 and I don’t think I should have to pay because my boss decided to get falling down drunk while he was on the clock. And even if I did have a license I wouldn’t have driven a company car without permission from someone higher than my manager. Is it okay to go to HR with something like this or is it expected I would have to pay?

The comment thread on Ask A Manager already has a lot of productive discussion on what the letter-writer should do and on the appropriateness of drinking during a business lunch, so that's probably the best venue for advice to LW on actual substantive issues.

What I'm interested in here is the boss's thought process (or lack thereof) when he left the office.

He was on his way to what he perceived as the kind of event where you get drunk.  But he just automatically assumed that someone else would be in a condition to drive him back to the office. He didn't ask, there was no history of this person driving him home, he just blindly assumed someone would take care of him.

It's mindblowing to me that someone can have been adulting long enough and well enough to become a boss without either getting in the habit of or automatically making a plan for how to get home.Why doesn't his brain do this automatically? What has his life thus far been that he's never had to think about it before, or at least hasn't had to think about it enough times that he automatically thinks about it?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Boys' entrance and girls' entrance

The school in which I attended middle school was built in 1929, originally intended as a high school. It was a brick and stone building, built in an architectural style that the internet tells me is called Collegiate Gothic.

At the front of the building are two imposing-looking entrance doors.  Carved in the stone above one door are the words "Boys' Entrance".  Carved in stone above the other door are the words "Girls' Entrance."

The mystery: the school has always been co-ed.  (It's been co-ed throughout living memory, and a search of newspaper archives can find no hint that they ever changed it to co-ed.)

Each front entrance door leads to a stairwell, both of which are identical. You can go up to the second and third floor or down to the first floor. Each stairwell let out in the same hallway, about a classroom length apart.  There were no hints inside the building that it had ever been divided into two and then later merged (and the interior of the building was such that it was clear when you were entering one of the wings that had been added later etc., so I doubt they would have removed any sort of dividing wall without leaving evidence.)

The gender segregation of entrances was never enforced within living memory.  (We actually used the back doors a lot more often because they were more convenient.)  The signs were only still there because they were carved in stone and it's hard to uncarve stone.

But the mystery remains: why have gender segregated entrances leading to the exact same hallways in a co-ed school in the first place?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Things I want to know from history but can't seem to google up properly

How were multiple brothers with the same surname addressed?

In the early 19th century (and probably some adjacent eras as well), the oldest unmarried daughter in a family was addressed as Miss [Surname], and her younger sisters were addressed as Miss [Firstname]. For example, the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice are addressed as Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia.  In Little Women, Meg and Jo receive an invitation to a danced addressed to "Miss March and Miss Josephine".

My question: what about brothers?  If there were multiple adult brothers, how were they addressed?

Which way did the buttons on lady's maids' dresses go?

Conventional wisdom says that men's clothes and women's clothes button on opposite sides because men dressed themselves and women had help getting dressed. (I question that, because upper-class men had valets just like upper-class women had lady's maids, but that is what the conventional wisdom says.)

But, within that reasoning, what about the clothes worn by lady's maids and other women who helped upper-class women get dressed? Did their buttons go in the same direction as men's, or did they emulate the fashions of upper-class women?

I've been dressing myself in women's clothes since I developed the motor skills to do so, and, as a result, I find it awkward and counterintuitive to button up a men's shirt on myself. I once bought a set of men's pyjamas when I was having trouble finding a pair of straightforward cotton pyjamas in the women's section, and I find the backwards buttons so irritating that I leave them buttoned up all the time and put the top over my head like a t-shirt. Surely any advantage of reversing the buttons would be negated by the fact that the lady's maid is accustomed to dressing herself...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why can you mail packages in street mailboxes?


Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Those red Canada Post mailboxes you see on the sidewalks have a small silver flap into which you can put individual letters, and a larger pull-down door into which you can put packages, as shown at right.

Mailboxes have been like this for as long as I can remember.  Even when I was a child in the 1980s, ever mailbox I saw (some of which, I'm sure, long predated the 1980s) had the large opening for packages.

Which raises the question: why would anyone put a package in a street mailbox? Correct postage for a package varies depending on size and weight, and, even if you could reliably calculate the postage at home, people rarely have a wide selection of different denominations of stamps that would enable them to affix correct postage.  Under normal circumstances, you'd have to go to a post office.  So why would a person ever put a package in the mailbox?

Of course, in the 21st century, the answer is ecommerce. When returning a product from a website with free returns (and perhaps under other circumstances of which I'm unaware), sometimes you get a shipping label that you can stick on a package and pop it right into a mailbox without having to go to the post office.

But mailboxes were designed to accommodate packages long before ecommerce was a thing!  Why?  Under what circumstances did people mail packages in street mailboxes back in the day?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why do some plugs and cables wear out?

My earbuds stop working every few months. First one ear goes, then both of them.  It seems to happen whether I buy them cheap or mid-range. (Haven't tried expensive ones myself, but other people have told me they wear out too.)  This has been happening since I was a teenager using them to listen to a walkman, and it continues at the same rate even now that I work from home (which is relevant because I use my earbuds for far fewer hours a day and they also spend much less time being knocked around in my purse.)

The Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter that I use to connect my external monitor to my computer wears out every couple of years. First the image doesn't always appear on the external monitor when I close the computer lid (I have to open the lid to get to the power button), then it starts taking multiple unplugs and replugs for the image to show up on the external monitor, then the monitor starts blinking out at random times, and finally it does this weird thing where the whole computer freezes when I try to switch to the monitor.  Then I get a new adapter, and everything goes back to normal.

I had the same problem with the cable that connected my cellphone to my computer, back when such a thing was possible. It would just stop working every few months.

Why does this happen?  These things are basically just plugs and wires. What exactly would cause them to stop functioning?

And why doesn't it happen with things like kettles and toasters and lamps, which also have plugs and wires?

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Teach me how non-employer-specific unions work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Journalism Wanted: who are the people who write publishable letters to the editor without knowing they'll be googleable?

Recently, the Toronto Star's public editor wrote about people who want their letters to the editor unpublished because they're googleable.

My question: who are these people?  This is really a unique convergence of factors. They are people to whom it occurs to write a letter to the editor, they are savvy enough to write a letter to the editor that gets selected for publication, they are completely unaware of the fact that a letter to the editor would become googleable, and they are affected by the fact that their letter (and the opinions contained therein) are googleable.

How do all these factors manage to converge? The combination of inclination to write a letter to the editor and unawareness of how googleability works makes me think of people who are very old and technologically illiterate, but would these people be affected by the googleability of their letter?  I mean, my own parents are senior citizens and they know how googleability works, so those who are unaware of it would be, like, octogenarians and above, most of whom aren't in the workforce or any other situation where the googleability of their opinions would have any impact.

Also, they don't print truly extremist positions in letters to the editor. If someone wrote in with hate speech or something, it wouldn't get printed.  But one of the reasons cited for requesting a letter to be unpublished is professional repercussions for the political views expressed.  Jobs where people would suffer repercussions for political views sufficiently benign to be printed in a letter to the editor are generally the sort of job that requires some degree of savvy and nuance - the sort of thing where you'd think people would need to know how googleability works in order to function properly at their job.  So how did they get there?

I really want the newspaper to interview these people (even if anonymously) and tell us their stories.  How did all these factors converge?

Where have all the anti-chafing gels gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, March 03, 2016

What's the name for the way parts of my firefox interface are disappearing?

For the past couple of days, my Firefox has been occasionally having this weird graphics problem, where parts of the interface at the top disappear and occasionally black boxes appear over the browser window. Screenshot below, click to embiggen:



Does anyone know what this phenomenon is called so I can google it effectively?

If you have troubleshooting ideas, so far I've tried disabling hardware acceleration, updating my graphics driver, disabling Classic Theme Restorer (which was being used in the screenshot), and disabling transparency in the Windows interface. Each step except disabling transparency helped a little, but none completely eliminated the problem.

The problem can usually be made to go away by changing the browser window size (i.e. clicking the "restore" button on the top right), but that's never permanent. Sometimes, however, I have to close the browser completely.

There weren't any updates or changes that correlated with the arrival of the problem, at least not that I can dig out. A java update appeared in my tray shortly before the problem started, but I didn't actually install the update until after the problem started.

In any case, my real question is the name/term/standard description for this weird way various things are randomly becoming invisible, so I can google it and/or file bug reports.

Anyone know?

Update: Switching to 64-bit Firefox (to go with my 64-bit Windows 7 install) removes the problems of the blank areas, but 64-bit Firefox eats up memory like crazy.  At one point I left the computer alone for 2 hours with only 1 tab open (the weather network), and when I got back it was using 5 gigs of RAM. I'm currently working on the Firefox memory problem and have some avenues, but if I can't make it work I'll do a system restore.

Second update: It turns out the memory leak on 64-bit Firefox is specific to to the combination of The Weather Network website and the Adblock Plus add-on. It doesn't happen on any sites other than The Weather Network, and it doesn't happen on The Weather Network if I disable Adblock Plus.  So I've filed a bug report with ABP to see if they can fix it. They've proven responsive in the past, so hopefully there will be a solution eventually.

As for the random blank graphics, I still don't know what they're called or why they were happening. They don't correspond with specific objects or elements, and move or grow or disappear when I resize the window.  When I try to take an about:memory log while they're happening Firefox crashes (so there are some relevant crash logs wherever it is crash logs get sent to). And they aren't related to The Weather Network or Adblock Plus because they occurred on other sites and even when I had all my add-ons disabled. But the 64-bit Firefox seemed to solve that problem, whatever it was.

With thanks to , and for pointing me in useful troubleshooting directions via Twitter.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Go Set a Watchman braindump

This post is a full spoiler zone for Go Set a Watchman.

1. It's quite obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book in its current form to be published after To Kill a Mockingbird, because Henry Clinton wasn't in Mockingbird. (There's a "Henry" in Scout's class, but we know that Henry Clinton is several years older than her so he wouldn't have been in her class.)  If you already know that your child-protagonist's future love interest grew up in the neighbourhood and went to the same schools, why wouldn't you give him a quick cameo - just a named extra in a crowd scene? It's a quick and easy Sirius Black moment.

2. Another reason why it's obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book to be published in its current form after Mockingbird is that the description of Tom Robinson's trial is different in Watchman. In Watchman, the defendant was acquitted. In Mockingbird, he was found guilty.

3. But, since Mockingbird was written second, the change in outcome of the trial supports my theory that Atticus didn't actually give Tom Robinson a full and proper defence.  Which is exactly what he explicitly says he wants to do with Calpurnia's grandson as well!

4. I don't understand why Scout went to visit Calpurnia and told her that Atticus would do everything to help her grandson when she knew full well he wouldn't.  She could have warned Calpurnia about Atticus's plans. She could have not mentioned anything about the quality of defence he'd receive from Atticus. She could have not visited Calpurnia at all.  Why did she choose instead to visit and falsely reassure?

5. In my Mockingbird post, I theorized that Scout could grow into someone who is (or is perceived to be) racist in her old age. After Watchman, I still don't feel like we know enough to argue for or against that outcome. But if I were to start collecting evidence that could be used to argue that Scout is racist, I would include that conversation with Calpurnia, along with Scout's assumption that the dialect Calpurnia speaks in the black community isn't her natural dialect while the dialect she speaks when raising her white employer's children is.

6. The most interesting story alluded to in this book isn't told at all: it's the story of the impact of the Second World War. Dill is in Italy!  If you look at it from the universe of Mockingbird, that's unimaginable!  What's he doing there? What's his life like? But in Watchman, it's just mentioned in passing and wouldn't even be mentionable if Mockingbird didn't exist.

7. (If Mockingbird had in fact been written with the intention of publishing it and then publishing Watchman, I suspect the characters of Dill and Henry would have been merged into one. Henry is or can easily be presented as enough of an outsider to fulfill the role of Dill in Mockingbird. We would then have been shown rather than told Henry's and Scout's long-standing attachment, and we'd also better grok Aunt Alexandra's objection to him as marriage material because we remember that grubby kid from Mockingbird.)

8. The other interesting story that isn't told is Scout's everyday life in New York. The book mentions (about 100 pages after I started wondering) that Scout went to college and then went to New York, where she's been living for five years.  It doesn't mention what she does for a living.  (If I had to guess a Generic Job That's Not Interesting Enough To Mention for a woman in her era and circumstances it would have been some kind of typing job, but the book specifically mentions that she can't use a typerwriter.) It doesn't mention where she lives or what her day-to-day life is like.  It doesn't get into how she found adapting to the city after growing up in such a ridiculously small town. That would be interesting!  I would totally read The Adventures of Scout in New York City! But the book doesn't even touch on it.

9. I haven't looked into whether Mockingbird has a robust fanfiction community and I'm not sure that I want to have a fanfiction relationship with this universe, but the adventures of Dill in Italy and the adventures of Scout in New York would be excellent fodder for a skilled fanfic author who is loyal to the characters and the settings. (Or, like, for Harper Lee to write more books in this universe, but I suspect that's not something she'll be doing.)

10. Overall, in reading this book, a feeling I had all too often was "I don't get it".

Often what I didn't get was, as I mentioned in my previous posts, a result of my being too far removed from the culture in which the book was written.  There are things that feel like the author thinks they're meaningful, but are meaningless to me.

One important example not mentioned in my previous posts is the racist organization to which Atticus and Henry belong, which is called a "Citizens' Council".  Scout expresses shock that such a thing exists in Maycomb, then goes to the meeting and hears all kinds of vile racist rhetoric being spewed.

The problem for me as a reader is that "Citizens' Council" sounds like some kind of municipal volunteer organization that discusses the beautification of parks or something.  I was spoiled for the racist plotline so I was able to quickly put together what was going on, but if I hadn't been I wouldn't have understood Scout's shock at the organization's existence.  Then, when she attended the meeting, I would have concluded that the council had been taken over by some Rob Ford type and that the rest of the plotline would have to do with unseating him.  Then I would have been very confused for a very long time.

Googling "Citizens' Council" is actually informative - the very first result has the information you need - but if I hadn't known about this plotline in advance, it never would have even occurred to me from my seat in 21st-century Canada to look into the name of this seemingly clearly-named and innocuous-sounding organization for an explanation of why they're spewing racist rhetoric and why Scout seemed to see that coming.

11. Another thing I often didn't get was the then-current events being referred to.  In one case, a current event was described only with the name of the state (either Mississippi or Missouri).  And, since I don't know the exact year the book is set, it's not like I can just google "What was happening in Mississippi in the 1950s?"  There's a mention of a Supreme Court decision that's fairly key, and I could only figure out what the actual decision was by including "Go Set a Watchman" as a search keyword - there wasn't enough information to get there based on the text alone. The characters are talking like everyone knows what they're talking about, and I'm missing crucial information because I live in a different country and a different century.

12. But there were also non-cultural things I didn't get. I came away from the book feeling that I hadn't understood the whole story. So what does Scout end up doing in the long run? Does she stay with Henry or does she dump him? Was Atticus racist all along or did he become racist due to recent events? If so, which of the vaguely-alluded recent events triggered it?  I also felt like the book intended to have a moral of the story, but I wasn't able to determine what it was actually intended to be.

13. I think the cultural "I don't get it"s could be addressed with very minor editing. This is a book with multi-page "As you know..." conversations about US history. Surely it wouldn't be too arduous to slip in a few keywords here and there so 21st-century readers and their international readers (both of which they knew they would have, given that the book was published in 2015 as the sequel to a famous novel) could grasp the connotations just as easily as the author's contemporaries.  Since the drink "set-up" is mentioned in an explanation from the narrator to the reader about the drinking habits of the people of Maycomb, it wouldn't be at all incongruous for the narrator to slip in a few words explaining to the reader what a "set-up" actually is. The internet tells me that Citizens' Councils are also referred to as White Citizens' Councils, so it wouldn't be at all out of place to just slip the word "White" in there in the first occurrence to give those of us who aren't up on the subject matter a hint of why Scout might be shocked about it. The impenetrable references to then-current events could be also be made clear (or, at least, googleable) with a keyword to get us started.

14. As for the aspects of the plot resolution and moral that I felt I missed, normally I would assume it's because I'm not a sophisticated enough reader.  Despite being a voracious reader I've never been especially good at Literature, so I wouldn't be surprised if I missed the kind of stuff that people write papers about.  But what's relevant in the particular case of Watchman is that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything after reading Mockingbird.  Even though I did miss some stuff, as I discovered in my reread, I came away feeling that I had grasped as much of the plot resolution and the moral as the book intended me to.  And, frankly, it's only polite to make multiple books in a series equally accessible to the same set of readers.

15. While it is the author's prerogative to write the way she wants to without spelling everything out for outsiders, I think doing so here is a missed opportunity.  Given the cultural weight of Mockingbird, Watchman was going to reach a lot of people who are far enough removed from the culture in which it was written to not get it.  And, especially in light of some of the racial weirdness in the news lately, it has the potential to be particularly educational to those of us who don't get it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More things I don't understand in Go Set a Watchman

This is still a spoiler-free zone for Go Set a Watchman. I'm still less than 100 pages in.
In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink. When one drank, one went behind the garage, turned up a pint, and drank it down; when one did not drink, one asked for set-ups at the E-Lite Eat Shop under cover of darkness: a man having a couple of drinks before or after dinner in his home or with his neighbor was unheard of. That was Social Drinking. Those who Drank Socially were not quite out of the top drawer, and because no one in Maycomb considered himself out of any drawer but the top, there was no Social Drinking.
1. What's a "set-up" in this context? I'm not able to google it effectively.
2. I know that "top drawer" is a good thing (high class, elite, etc.)  Is "out of the top drawer" a synonym or an antonym? Drinking socially seems classier than drinking behind the garage. Does that mean the people of Maycomb are specifically attempting not to present as classy?

With company came Calpurnia’s company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis’s English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, “Excuse me, please,” reached up, and brought Calpurnia’s head to the level of her own. “Cal,” she whispered, “is Atticus real upset?”

Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, “Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin’!”
I know from Mockingbird that Calpurnia code-switches.  She speaks like educated white people in the Finch home, and speaks like other black people within the black community.  But I don't know how they're saying she talks in the presence of "company".

After some interference-riddled googling, I suspect "Jeff Davis" refers to one Jefferson Davis, who, according to Wikipedia, was the president of the Confederate States of America during the US civil war. However, I don't know what his English is like.

The phrase "dropped her verbs" suggests a deviation from what is considered standard English, which suggests that Calpurnia talks more black in front of guests. Why would she do this?  But in her answer to Scout's question, she appears to drop a verb (saying "He on the back porch" rather than "He is on the back porch").

Also, in Mockingbird, Calpurnia talks more black within the black community, which includes her immediate family. Which would suggest that she's "herself" within the white community and performing within the black community.

Unless this is another instance of unreliable narrator, and Scout is misinterpreting which language choices are Calpurnia's "company manners".  But that still doesn't explain why she would perform blackness in front of white guests.

I know that this is laden with meaning, and I'm too far removed from the culture in which it was written to grasp the meaning.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Things I don't understand in the first 15 pages of Go Set A Watchman

I just started reading Go Set a Watchman (no spoilers please - I'm only 15 pages in) and I all at once encountered a whole spate of things that confuse me because I'm missing historical information.  So I decided to blog them, as one does. This might be part 1 in a series depending on how the book goes.

"Although she was a respectable driver, she hated to operate anything mechanical more complicated than a safety pin: folding lawn chairs were a source of profound irritation to her; she had never learned to ride a bicycle or use a typerwriter; she fished with a pole."

She fished with a pole as opposed to what? I live 60 years in the future, and the only other way I'm aware of fishing (even on an industrial scale) is with a net, which certainly isn't mechanical.

[Discussing the car] "Power steering? Automatic transmission?"

I legit didn't know they had those in the 1950s! We didn't have a car with power steering and automatic transmission until the mid-90s!

"His father had left his mother soon after Henry was born, and sh worked night and day in her little crossroads store to send Henry through the Maycomb public schools."
To me, this sounds like she had to pay to send him to public school. Quoi?


Anyone have any insight on any of these?

(If you have spoilers or want to discuss the book, please wait for my eventual post following up on my speculations after rereading Mockingbird.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Teach me about the economics of ATMs

A tiny family-owned convenience store in my neighbourhood has a Royal Bank ATM in it. Since the bank account from which I most often withdraw cash is with Royal Bank, I sometimes pop into this store to use the ATM.

However, I never buy anything from this store, because it doesn't have anything I need that can't be obtained at a significantly better price elsewhere in the immediate neighbourhood.

Am I making this store money by using the Royal Bank ATM located inside it? Or am I costing them money?

My googling tells me that no-name ATMs - the one that you often find in bars and restaurants and charge exorbitant fees - make money for the business in which they are located.  But do bank-branded ATMs also do that?  Even though they don't charge a transaction fee if you're a customer of that bank?  Or do the banks charge businesses to host the ATMs on the grounds that the ATM might attract people who will then become paying customers?  (I haven't been able to google up anything suggesting that they do, but it sounds like the kind of thing a bank would come up with.  Nor have I been able to google up anything suggesting that businesses make money from hosting bank-branded ATMs)

If it costs this little convenience store money for me to use their ATM, I'll get off my lazy ass and walk a block to the actual bank branch.  But if it's revenue neutral, I want to use it sometimes because it's more convenient for me on some of the routes that I take for various errands. And if it actually generates revenue for them, maybe I should use it systematically, rather than that revenue going to the bank or to Shoppers Drug Mart.

Anyone have any insight about how this works?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why is defecting allowed?

With the news that some Cuban Pan Am athletes defected, I find myself wondering why defecting is allowed from the perspective of the receiving country.

The results of my googling talk about the fact that defecting is prohibited by the country of origin and measures that countries might take to prevent people from defecting away.  But they take for granted that the receiving country will be happy to welcome the defectors.

Does the receiving country always in fact welcome defectors?  If so, why?  Do they ever turn them away?  Or can people automatically get in by announcing that they're defecting?

The definition of "defecting" as opposed to "emigrating" is that the country of origin doesn't want to let you out.  So, given recent stinginess towards refugees in various parts of the world, maybe people who have to pay smugglers to get them across the border so they can claim refugee status should instead announce that they're defecting?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why is there acetaminophen in everything?

This summer cold has used up my stock of Nyquil, so I went to the store to buy more.  They've changed their product line since I last bought any, and now there are two kind: Nyquil Cold & Flu and Nyquil Sinus.  I wasn't sure which one was "normal" Nyquil, so I read the labels, and was surprised to see that there's acetaminophen in both.

There's probably always been acetaminophen in Nyquil, but I noticed it this time because some random internet person recently told me that the freakish dreams I had when I tried Tylenol Cold & Flu a while back might have been due to the acetaminophen.  So I looked at the similar cold medicines on the shelf, and all of them had acetaminophen, except for the Advil-branded medicines which had ibuprofen. I could not find one single decongestant that doesn't contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Why do they do this?

Acetaminophen is a painkiller and fever reducer.  The vast majority of my colds don't come with pain or a fever and, when I do have aches and pain or a fever caused by a virus, I don't always want to suppress it so I can accurately monitor the evolution of my condition.

I use decongestants so I can stop sniffling long enough to fall asleep.  I want my nose to stop running, and I wouldn't say no to a sedative. Fevers and aches and pains don't prevent me from sleeping (in fact, they make me want to lie down and close my eyes), so the acetaminophen simply doesn't help.


This cold also brought me a productive cough, so I decided to take an expectorant to make it pass faster.  Last time I had a cough, I learned that the very effective but very disgusting Buckley's cough syrup comes in pill form, so I bought some called Buckley's Complete Plus Mucous Relief.  I took this out of my medicine cabinet, read the label, and discovered that not only does it contain acetaminophen too, it also contains a cough suppressant in addition to the expectorant!  (And a decongestant, but I don't object to that.)  It seems that the cough suppressant and the expectorant would work at cross-purposes, and, since I'm at home, I don't want to suppress the cough! I want to spend the day coughing my lungs up and be done with it rather than having it stretch out over days and weeks.

So I went to the drug store and looked at the cough medicines and, once again, all of the cough medicines that come in pill form had acetaminophen and a cough suppressant. (There was a liquid expectorant, but liquid cough medicines are disgusting so I really hope to avoid them.)


I don't understand why they do this.  I very, very rarely need acetaminophen at the same time as I need a decongestant or cough medicine, and if I do have a fever or aches and pains that I do want to treat, it's no effort to take a Tylenol in addition to my cold or cough medicine.  There are also people for whom acetaminophen is contraindicated. What is gained by shutting them out of the cold medicine market?

On top of that, there have been concerns recently about people inadvertently taking risky levels of acetaminophen. Surely an easy and unobjectionable first step would be to remove acetaminophen from medications whose primary purpose is not pain management or fever management!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

itunes deleted all the music off my ipod

The ipod: a 4th generation ipod touch running iOS 6.0
The itunes: itunes 11.0
The computer: PC running Windows 7


I added some new music to my itunes library, then synced my ipod (like I've done many, many times before) to add that music to my ipod.  But, to my shock, itunes instead deleted all the music off my ipod!

I tried to sync it again, but this didn't add any music to it. And, unfortunately, the second attempt to sync overwrote the backup of my ipod (itunes only keeps one backup and there's no way to keep others!), so I couldn't just restore the backup.

I went through all the usual disconnecting, reconnecting, turning stuff on and off, pressing both buttons to reset the ipod, but I still couldn't convince my music to go back on my ipod.  At one point about 400 songs (out of over 8000) went on the ipod, but when I tried to add more they went away.

Some parts of the internet suggested that this was a copyright thing, and music that wasn't purchased through the itunes store was being deleted, but that wasn't the case here.  I've never purchased any music through itunes, and the 400 songs that did end up on my ipod were from a mixture of CDs and downloads.

This discussion thread had some people experiencing the same problem. Some people suggested that this was a known issue and if you went to the Apple store they'd fix it, but they never specified what the Apple store did to fix it. I was slightly reluctant to do that, because the Apple store would probably update my iOS, and whenever my iOS is updated something goes wrong with one of my apps.  Also, since my computer is a PC, the Apple store won't even look at it, even if part of the problem is in the itunes that is on my computer.  So all I could see them doing was restoring my ipod, thereby forcing me to upgrade my iOS, and sending me on my merry way.

During the course of my research, I learned about the Manually Manage Music option in itunes, which allows you to drag and drop music onto your ipod rather than using the sync function. I tried to put my playlist on the ipod using this function, and it transferred about 500 songs (again with no discernible pattern) which is better than before but still only a small fraction of my 8000+ playlist.

Someone on the internet who was having the same problem mentioned transferring their songs album by album, so I decided to try to transfer the songs from an album that didn't get transferred.  I typed the name of the album into the search box in itunes, selected all, and dragged them over to the ipod.  It sat on the first step of the process (something like "preparing for transfer" - I'm not about to try it again just to get the exact name of the step!) for a really long time, leading me to believe it wasn't going to work.  Resigned, I contemplated whether to update and restore the iOS, update or reinstall itunes, go to the Apple store, or any number of time-consuming and no doubt fruitless steps that happen next in the troubleshooting process.

At some point during this contemplation, I idly backspaced the album name that I'd typed in the search box of itunes, so itunes once again displayed all the songs.  And, at some point during this contemplation, itunes started transferring the remaining ~7500 songs to my ipod!!

I have no idea if backspacing the album name out of the search box is what caused all the songs to transfer.  I have no idea if it was caused by something else I failed to notice.  But I haven't been that happy since the day my computer finally came back from the Dell depot!

So now I'm keeping my ipod in Manually Manage Music mode, so I don't have to do a full sync the next time I want to put more music on it. If I have trouble again, I'll try transferring just a few songs isolated by searching in itunes, then backspace the search out of the search box.  (I have no idea if that will work, but that's where I am in my testing.) However, I'm dreading what will happen when I have to sync the ipod again to update apps or something.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Unnecessary TTC announcements

I was riding a subway northbound on the Yonge line. As we travelled from Davisville to Eglinton, the driver made an announcement: "Attention all passengers: we are currently bypassing Spadina station in both directions on both lines due to a police investigation."

Problem: We were heading north from Davisville to Eglinton, which is directly away from Spadina station.  To be affected by delays at Spadina station, a passenger on our train would have to get out, board a train heading in the opposite direction, and travel quite a few stations.  It's highly unlikely that anyone would do this!

Back in my commuting days, I've been on trains where this happened quite a few times - the driver announces a delay that's behind us, or heading in the opposite direction, and therefore is not going to affect our train at all and isn't going to affect any of the passengers unless they get out and switch to a train heading in the opposite direction.  These aren't system-wide loudspeaker announcements, like you hear made by a pre-recorded voice when waiting on the platform.  These are announcements made specifically by the driver of our one train.

I don't think they should make these announcements. 

One thing I've noticed since I started following @TTCNotices on Twitter is that the vast majority of delays are cleared very quickly, often within just a couple of minutes. I also learned, back in my commuting days, that even delays for which shuttle buses are called are often cleared so quickly that it's better to wait them out than to get on a shuttle bus.

So I think having drivers make a specific effort to announce delays that don't apply to the train will just make passengers unnecessarily worry and stress and think the system is unreliable.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the audio quality of driver announcements is not as good as that of recorded announcements, so it produces some unnecessary "Wait, what did he say?" moments.

If any passengers are going to be affected by the delay in the opposite direction or behind us, they'll have plenty of time to find out when they're waiting on the platform for their opposite-direction trip, or when they look at one of the video screens on the platforms, or when they check Twitter.

But I think nothing is gained by having drivers make an announcement just within their train when the announcement definitely does not apply to that train.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The mystery of the Yonge Eglinton haters

The "density creeps" who have been in the news lately remind me of one of the mysteries of Yonge & Eglinton: people who deliberately move here and then complain that the neighbourhood has characteristics that it has had since long before they moved here.

In the density creeps story, that characteristic is density.  from the proposed development site are highrise buildings, which are part of the highrise cluster that was built in the 1970s, 20 years before the density creeps moved here.  There are also four 4-storey apartment buildings that appear architecturally to date back to the 1950s on that one block alone.

In short, the kind of density they decry, along with the attendant impact on property values and population demographics, were well-established in the neighbourhood long before they even arrived.

(Which makes me want to flag a lot of the commentary on this story with #JournalismWanted - many commentators seem to be taking the density creeps at their word that this new development is somehow significantly denser or significantly cheaper than the established neighbourhood, when this allegation could be disproven with a simple google, or by going to the site (conveniently located just 4 blocks north of Eglinton subway station!) and taking a quick look around.)

But the density creeps aren't the only ones I've seen doing this.  Far more frequently than you'd expect, mostly on the internet but sometimes just walking down the street, I hear people who live here and, based on demographics, appear to have moved here recently and to have had a choice in the matter (i.e. they're old enough and employed enough to live independently of their parents, but young enough that they definitely didn't move here before the 21st century) complain about things like density or highrises or chain stores or yuppies - things that have all been here since before the 21st century, and things whose presence you can easily detect by walking down the street.  If you don't like those things, you can see that the neighbourhood isn't for you the moment you emerge from the subway.

The other thing is, this isn't the cheapest neighbourhood.  If you want lower density or lowrises or fewer chain stores or fewer yuppies, there are other neighbourhoods that meet those characteristics and are cheaper to live in. So what are they doing here?


Despite the criticism from some quarters, this isn't the worst neighbourhood in Toronto.  We're generally closer to the top than to the bottom for indicators such as amenities, services, accessibility, quality of schools, quality of housing stock, infrastructure, lower crime rates, etc. 

I wonder if people in neighbourhoods that are worse in all these areas complain as much as the residents of Yonge & Eg, who, by all appearances, could totally choose to live elsewhere?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why are manufacturers pushing detergent pods?

I'm signed up for various free sample and coupon sites, and I've noticed recently that they are really pushing detergent pods, for both laundry and dish detergent.  Samples are only ever of detergent pods, never regular liquid or powder detergent, and now I'm finding sometimes you can only get coupons for the pods, not for the regular detergent.

I wonder why they're pushing them so hard?

I have found that, without exception, the detergent pods are far inferior to regular liquid detergent (and to old-fashioned powder detergent.)  They simply don't break up in the machine when used as directed, so you have a half a pod, a few clumps of detergent powder, and a not-fully-clean load of laundry or dishes. 

On top of that, detergent pods seem like they'd be more expensive to manufacture than regular detergent, because you'd have to make the different components and then combine them all into a pod and count out a specific number of pods into each container, whereas with liquid or powder detergent you can just manufacture it in bulk in a giant vat and dispense it into containers.

Even if there is some reason I can't see why some customers might prefer pods, why are manufacturers pushing pods to the exclusion of regular detergents?  What is gained by trying to urge us away from the more effective product that's easier to manufacture?