Showing posts with label thoughts from the shower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thoughts from the shower. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Uber but for driving practice

I've blogged before about the problem of driving schools being based on the assumption that you  have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you while you practise.  And if you don't have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you, you won't get enough practice to get good enough to pass the test, unless you pay your driving instructor a significant (and prohibitive to some) amount of money to accompany you while you practise.

It occurred to me in the shower that the Uber model could fill this gap.

The client creates an Uber account indicating that they are a learning driver looking for an accompanying driver to practice with.  The car owner accepts the client as usual, arrives at the client's location as usual, and the only difference is that the client drives the car to their destination and the accompanying driver sits in the passenger seat, serving as accompanying driver.

The client would pay the car owner more money than the typical Uber fee to make up for the increased risk incurred by the car owner. (It would have to be less than the a driving instructor would typically charge for a lesson - I don't know offhand if Uber drivers would consider that sufficient compensation for increased risk.)  Uber drivers could, of course, opt out of providing driving practice, and instead provide only driving services.  I don't know how it would work for insurance, but Uber has operated (and possibly still does operate) in a questionable insurance environment and that didn't stop it.

Even if the client does supplement their practice with additional professional lessons, the Uber model could be useful by allowing the client to get driving practice whenever they have to go somewhere (which is often how it works when you already have a car and an accompanying driver in the household) rather than having to book lessons whenever they fit in the instructor's schedule. Going to work? Driving practice! Going on an errand? Driving practice!

Obviously, this model is not ideal. The ideal would be a baseline driving instruction system that works equally well for clients who have a car in their household and clients who don't have access to a car, where instructors are well-paid, well-trained and properly insured, and where quality driving instruction is reasonably affordable to all clients.

But in the meantime, this is a need. If there are people willing to serve as accompanying driver in exchange for pay, the Uber model could fill this need. And it would enable new drivers for whom practice is inaccessible to become more experienced before getting fully licensed.

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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Things They Should Invent: outlaw commission

Originally I was writing a blog post about how commission-based compensation for various professionals involved in real estate transactions is a problem - it disincentivizes taking on first-time buyers of primary residences as clients (because we have less money to spend and need more hand-holding) and incentivizes taking on investors as clients (they have more money to spend, have less at stake because they don't actually live in the property, and are more likely to buy again soon). I was writing some half-formed ideas about whether this commission model might be encouraging sales to non-resident investors at the expense of regular people just trying to buy a home, especially first-time buyers.

But as I was writing this, I realized the problem is not limited to commission on real estate transactions.  The problem is commission on all sales.

I propose that it should be banned, and salespeople should be paid a salary instead (possibly with bonuses for excellent customer service.)

I'm not saying this from my point of view as a worker. (Although it certainly is a labour issue too!)  I'm saying this from my point of view as a consumer.

Even moderately experienced salespeople know far more about their products than I do. They know stuff like "If you can squeeze into a 10.5 in the Operetta shoe family but would prefer 11, then you're a 12 in the Miracles shoe family." or "If your primary motivation in looking at this $700 phone is that it has more storage, you should be aware that that $300 phone can accommodate an SD card."

But because they're incentivized to sell more rather than to provide excellent customer service, they might not want to share this expertise with us, and we might not know if we can trust the expertise they do share.

If salespeople weren't incentivized to sell more and instead were incentivized to best meet the customer's needs, then products that actually meet people's needs would sell better. Demand for products that meet needs would increase, demand for products that don't meet needs would decline, and the overall offer of products on the market would improve.

As consumers grow more confident that products they buy will meet their needs, they will grow less reluctant to shop. (I would buy so many more clothes if I knew they would work, and didn't have to keep trying on things that didn't work!) Insofar as there is disposable income, people will be happy to spend it. This will boost the economy, and make the market function more optimally.

If you ever buy things, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you want eliminate any consumer reluctance to shop, you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you want the market to function as it should, with demand for things that meet consumer needs and no demand for things that don't, then you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you're a company that produces excellent products and want your excellent products to outsell less-excellent products, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you're a salesperson who truly wants to use your expertise to help guide people to the right product for them and enjoy return business from happy customers, you would benefit from the elimination of commission.

Basically, unless your primary objective is to cheat, coerce and manipulate people into buying things they don't need, you would do better without commission.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The notion of prayer is weird

Within a paradigm where there is a deity who is capable of answering your prayers but does not always choose to do so, the very notion of praying doesn't make sense.

A deity, being omniscient, would already know what you want, and how badly you want it, and the arguments for giving it to you, regardless of whether you go through the motions of praying. The only scenario in which praying would make a difference is if the deity is not just, and is so insecure in its own divinity that it wants its ego stroked by people getting down on their knees and begging. But shouldn't any remotely competent deity be above that sort of thing?

***

As I was writing this, I found myself wondering if there's some correlation between capacity for religion and capacity for emotional labour.  Religion (or, at least, the subset of religion to which I have been exposed) requires not just having certain feelings, but  performing those feelings, often publicly. (Or, if not truly publicly, then at least so it can be seen by your family or your religious community or your religious leadership.)  I wonder if being able to and willing to do that that might correlate with being able to and willing to perform emotional labour?

I don't think it would be outright cause and effect (in my case, I have far more desire to perform emotional labour than to perform religion, but far less ability), but nevertheless I do wonder if it correlates.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"It doesn't matter as long as people can understand you"


There are people who say that it shouldn't matter whether something is written properly as long as the audience understands it.

I've heard this said about things that aren't "correct" English per the prescriptivist definition (like "ain't"), and about spelling and grammar errors, as well as things like slang and txtspeak, which aren't the focus of today's post.

I have also found myself in situations where these things make it difficult for me to understand the text. For example, if the "incorrect" English or spelling or grammar error shifts meaning, I interpret the text literally, not realizing that the person meant something else.

And sometimes in these situations where I'm having trouble understanding because I interpreted an erroneous text literally, I'm accused of being pedantic, as though I'm not understanding on purpose as a judgement of their poor writing skills, with tone and delivery hinting that I should stop being difficult and just get along and understand it like a regular person.

This makes me wonder: do people whose English skills lead to spelling/grammar/usage errors that shift meaning find it easier to understand other people with similar English skills?  Do they not see the shift in meaning, or somehow instantly see what was intended?

(In this post so far, I'm talking about people whose first language is English, although it could certainly also happen with people whose first language is not English.)

One thing I've learned in my translation career is that Anglophones and Francophones make different kinds of mistakes in French.  An Anglophone who learned French in school wouldn't confuse manger (to eat) and mangĂ© (eaten), or ses (his/her where the noun is plural) and ces (these) on the grounds that they're completely different parts of speech, but these are among the most common mistakes Francophones make on the grounds that they're homophones.  (I was so proud of myself the day I almost sent out an email in French with an infinitive where a past participle should have been! Finally thinking in French!) 

Meanwhile, a Francophone would never say il faut que je vais (indicative , where the subjunctive il faut que j'aille is correct), but this is one of the most common mistakes Anglophones make because subjunctive isn't as intuitive for us.

A French text written by an Anglophone with poor French skills is very easy for me to understand. A French text written by a Francophone with poor French skills is perilously close to impenetrable for me.

I wonder if the same phenomenon occurs with texts written by people with similar skill levels in English, even if English is their first language. Do people who are prone to make errors in English understand error-prone English better than people who have a better handle on spelling and grammar?  If so, I wonder if they can understand error-prone English better than error-free English?

(Aside: I'm quite sure the gods of irony will have inserted a few errors of the sort that I don't usually make into this blog post.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

I would never think of borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour. Here's why that's a good thing.

A while back, a politician said that she moved out of Toronto because she felt it lacked community, citing as an example “I would never go next door and ask my neighbour for a cup of sugar. It just wouldn’t happen.

This led to a brief flurry of journalists attempting to borrow sugar and documenting the results, but I didn't give it much thought, until it bubbled up in my mind in the shower today and it occurred to me:

I would never, ever even consider knocking on my neighbour's door to borrow a cup of sugar, literally or metaphorically. It just wouldn't happen.

And the reason for that has absolutely nothing to do with my neighbours. And absolutely everything to do with my neighbourhood.

I chose my neighbourhood because it's easy and convenient. And part of being easy and convenient is having stores that sell and services that provide nearly everything I might ever need all within the immediate neighbourhood.  I can get a boxspring, a biopsy and a bridesmaid dress all within easy walking distance.  And, more importantly, I can get sugar - or any other foodstuff I might need - within a two-minute walk, 24/7/365.

Many urban neighbourhoods - especially high-density neighbourhoods - are like this.  There's no need to bother your neighbours because the neighbourhood infrastructure and amenities meet your needs.

That's a sign of a successful, functioning community, where people can get what they need through the normal mechanisms and infrastructure, without having to even consider imposing upon the kindness of - or being at the mercy of - those who happen to be in the vicinity.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What if different kinds of lies were like apples and oranges?

Conventional wisdom is that politicians lie.

But when we say this, we usually mean "They don't keep their electoral promises." They say they're going to do something and then they don't, or they say they aren't going to do something and then they do.

But sometimes politicians lie about objective, observable facts.  And this is a problem, because they aren't just stating objectively incorrect information, they're also using the objectively incorrect information as a basis for questionable policy.

For example, a politician says there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses in their area, and therefore libraries should be cut. However, the fact of the matter is that there are more Tim Hortonses than libraries in their area.  And even if there were more libraries than Tim Hortonses, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. And even if the ratio were a problem, perhaps the solution would be more Tim Hortonses.  And maybe the ratio is even a problem the other way - maybe there aren't enough libraries.  One possibility is that there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses but still not enough libraries (for example, if there were two libraries and one Tim Hortons, that wouldn't be enough libraries for the entire city.)

It creates a stream of hypotheticals that the people least likely to be willing or able to stay fully informed are least likely to be willing or able to follow. If you focus on debunking the clear, objective lie (more libraries than Tim Hortonses), you're implying that the problematic logic that follows (that more libraries than Tim Hortonses would be a problem, that libraries should be cut) is not a problem. If you focus on the problematic conclusions, you're implying that the false premise is accurate and failing to call out the politician for a glaring objective falsehood.

But not enough people see this lying about objective facts as a massive deal-breaker problem that needs to be immediately and drastically nipped in the bud, because we're coming from this baseline conventional wisdom that of course politicians lie.

This makes me wonder how our political discourse would be different if these different kinds of lies were completely different concepts in our language and concept system. We can, of course, describe the different kinds of lies that exist using words and phrases, like I've done above, but they're all lies.  What would happen if they were different concepts, like apples and oranges? Yes, apples and oranges have things in common (they're both round and sweet and edible, they both fall into the broader category of "fruit" in our concept system), but they're clearly different things in our concept system.

If different kinds of lies were apples and oranges, no one would say "Of course that politician is oranging, everyone knows that politicians always apple." No one would say "Why are you calling out that politician for oranging but not that other politician for appling?"  People could be aghast that the politician oranged without even having to address the conventional wisdom that politicians apple, because they're two completely different concepts.

I wonder what our political discourse would look like then?

I wonder if there are any languages where different types of lies are completely discrete concepts?  I wonder if the cultures where those languages are spoken also have the conventional wisdom that politicians lie?

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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How do people on the wrong side of the confidence gap perceive other people's abilities?

I blogged before about the notion of the confidence gap, where some people are loudly overconfident about their own abilities.

I wonder how these people who overestimate their own competence assess other people's abilities? ("Competence" is actually a better word than "abilities" for what I'm trying to express here, but the post rapidly became ridiculous with the conflation of the similar-looking and -sounding words "confidence" and " competence")

To make it easier to give examples, let's pretend that abilities can be measured in Ability Points.  Does a person who actually has 50 Ability Points but is overconfident enough to think they have 70 Ability Points perceive someone with 60 Ability Points as more competent or less competent?

Or do they equate loud overconfidence with ability, and so can't recognize that the quietly-competent person in the corner easily has at least 100 Ability Points, but the loudmouth down the hall only has 40 Ability Points on a good day?

I suppose you could also look at this from the other side: how do people with imposter syndrome perceive other people's abilities?

I can't tell you for certain that I underestimate my abilities, but both anecdotal evidence and other people's comments to my younger self suggest that I have done so in the past. (I'm too close to the present to accurately assess it.)  And during that time, I simply assumed that other people had the level of awesomeness that I myself felt subpar for lacking.  For example, I thought I had 50 Ability Points, and assumed that others had 100 Ability Points, when in fact they were within 10 Ability Points of me. (I'm too close to the situation to tell you objectively if that meant we both had ~50 Ability Points or ~100 Ability Points or some vastly different number.)

But that's when comparing myself to other translators in the realm of translation.  In other areas of life where I very clearly don't have particular expertise, if someone who is supposed to have particular expertise doesn't appear to be vastly better than I am in a way I can clearly perceive, I feel betrayed. If I'm right about something and my doctor or lawyer or realtor is wrong, I don't feel I can trust them. I have no idea if this is representative or just one of my personal neuroses.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things They Should Invent: bottled flat ginger ale

A common home remedy for an upset stomach or nausea is to drink flat ginger ale.

This is less easy than it could be, because ginger ale only comes carbonated, so you have to open it and pour it out and wait for it to go flat.

Solution: sell ginger ale that's already flat. If ginger ale can't be manufactured without first making it carbonated, then they should let it go flat before bottling it, and bottle it like water or juice or similar flat beverages.

The market for this: airlines (and, perhaps, other modes of transportation that provide food service and where people might get motion sick, like trains where you might have to sit backwards). Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to offer one of the standard home remedies for motion sickness in your standard drink selection?

Some parts of the internet suggest that flat ginger ale doesn't actually help with motion sickness, but I'm not sure that that matters. Other parts of the internet are convinced that it's panacea, so the demand does exist.  And if you're stuck in a plane for hours and fighting off airsickness with nothing but a basic drink selection to help you, wouldn't you choose the common home remedy just in case it helps? Even if it's a placebo effect, it might still bring relief, or, at a minimum, the comfort of feeling like you're doing something for your motion sickness. And if it does in fact work for some people, even if just as a placebo, all the better!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Did you need an invitation to join the French Resistence?

This idea occurred to me when thinking about the French Resistance during World War II (at least as portrayed in fiction), but I'd imagine it would apply to a wide range of resistance movements past, present and future.

A movement resisting tyranny wouldn't be able to recruit openly, because the very tyranny you're resisting would use this to identify who and where you are and eliminate you.

This would mean that if you want to join the resistance, you'd need to be invited, or know someone, or know someone who knows someone.

Which means that there might be perfectly competent - and perhaps even highly useful - people who want to participate in the resistance but can't join because they don't have the right connections, or because the resistance doesn't know about them.

And when there are highly competent (or highly enthusiastic) who want to join the resistance but can't get an in, they might start their own resistance. (Especially if the resistance that they can't get an in to join is particularly good at its secrecy - the would-be resistance members might not even know that it even exists.)

I wonder if there were ever multiple and competing resistance movements? (Like this scene in Life of Brian

I wonder if tyrants were ever able to play one resistance movement off another?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

What if there are perfectly unremarkable sexual proclivities that no human has ever had?

Humanity collectively has a mind-blowing range of sexual proclivities, so I've always operated under the assumption that every imaginable proclivity or variation must exist within the full scope of human experience.

But what if some things that we would expect to exist don't and never have? And what if some of the proclivities that have never existed are really unremarkable or benign compared to other proclivities that do exist?

For example, what if no one in human history has ever been turned on by the idea of their partner wearing a hat during sex?  What if no one has ever gotten off on having the back of their knees licked? Not these specific examples per se (I thought of them, so they probably aren't good examples of things no one has ever thought of), but what if there are things that are comparably unremarkable but no one in human history has ever found them sexy?  Even though there are people who get off on the idea of being eaten alive (Savage Love column, no graphic images but textual content NSFW).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wifi

When Eddie Izzard was running marathons across South Africa and periscoping his progress, I repeatedly saw people in the comments asking how he gets wifi way out in the middle of nowhere.

I've recently seen people call into question the authenticity of civilian tweets from Syria by saying that wifi couldn't possibly be working with all the war constantly knocking out power and infrastructure.

In both these cases, it's glaringly obvious to me that they aren't using wifi, they're using their data plan. They don't need a wifi hotspot (or electricity if their phone is charged), they're using...I don't actually know - satellites or towers or whatever it is that transmits cellular data.

My first thought was to wonder if people are now using "wifi" as a synonym for any type of wireless internet, even when it's clearly not actual wifi.

But another thing I hear about from time to time is the possibility of introducing free wifi in public places as a public service. And when I think about it, the number of places that offer free wifi as an amenity seems to be increasing - restaurants and stores and malls and even the TTC have introduced it, and the trend seems to be towards more rather than less public wifi.

All this time I've been assuming that everyone has a data plan (except me, because I'm frugal with my cellphone use). But could it be that far fewer people than I expected have data plans and far more people than I expected are dependent on wifi - to the extent that it doesn't even occur to them that people might have another method of connectivity?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Teach me about people who hand out flyers and coupons

Living in a neighbourhood with a lot of pedestrian traffic, I see a lot of people standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers and/or coupons.

My natural inclination is to politely decline anything I'm not in the market for.  But it occurred to me in the shower that I might be making their job harder, depending on how they are incentivized and/or rewarded by their employers.

Are they incentivized to get rid of all their flyers, or are they incentivized to have a high conversion rate?  If they have to stand out in the cold until they get rid of all their flyers, or if their employer looks more positively upon them for handing out more flyers, I'm doing them a kindness by taking a flyer regardless of whether I'm in the market for what they're selling. But if they're incentivized based on conversion rate, i.e. their employer looks more positive upon them for people actually coming into the business and buying something after receiving a flyer/coupon, I should keep rejecting things I have no intention of using.

Anyone know which approach would be the kindest to the people in this thankless job?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Alternatives to political debates

I've been thinking for some time that debates between political candidates aren't particularly useful, because they don't reflect the actual work of being a political leader.  Political leaders aren't (or shouldn't be) spending their days arguing with someone advocating for a different policy platform, they are (or should be) their days providing leadership to get shit done, often with an irritatingly finite budget and a politically divided legislature.  Instead of debates (or, if people insist, in addition to debates), candidates should have to do televised activities to reflect that.

My shower has given me two ideas so far:

1. Assembling Ikea furniture:  The candidate has the instructions but can't touch the actual furniture parts or tools. The candidate oversees a team of people who are allowed to touch the parts and tools but aren't allowed to look at the instructions.  The candidate has to effectively communicate what needs doing to the team. To up the difficulty level, maybe there are multiple pieces of furniture to be assembled and the parts are all mixed in together. Maybe there's one or more parts missing, or one or more parts extra.  Maybe the other team has the missing parts!

2. Scavenger hunt: The candidates are given a list of things to find (impossible ideal: a randomly-generated subset of all the things in the world), a specific budget, and a team of people. Their mission is to bring all the things to a designated location.  The crucial thing about this scavenger hunt is that it is not designed to be logistically feasible. Some items might be more expensive than the budget allows for. Some items might be extremely difficult to move. Some items might belong to someone who is reluctant to give them up or sell them or lend them.  Maybe the last surviving white rhino is on the list. Maybe the Stone of Scone is on the list. Maybe the Pope's underwear is on the list. (As well as easier things like a pink paperclip or a ferret or a bottle of EKU 28.) And the candidates and their teams have to plan and strategize and persuade to figure out how to get all these things, in time and under budget, despite whatever obstacles exist.

In both cases, there are several options for who is on each candidate's team. Maybe they have a team of randomly selected politicians they'll have to work with, e.g. MPs if this is a contest between prospective Prime Ministers. Maybe they have a team randomly selected from a group of volunteers - people volunteer to be part of this, but which candidate's team they're on (or if they're selected at all) is left up to chance. Maybe the candidate gets to appoint their team. (I like the idea of a team partially randomly-selected and partially appointed, so we can see both how the candidates work with people who don't necessarily support them as well as the power of the candidate's metaphorical rolodex and the candidate's judgement in choosing a team.)

In all cases, the goal is not to see who finishes the task first or fastest, but rather to see how they handle the tasks. How do they elicit the desired performance from people who aren't necessarily enthusiastic allies? How do they deal with obstacles and frustrations? How do they deal with limited resources?  What are their responsibility and blame dynamics like?

Ideally, these challenges wouldn't be scored and wouldn't be set up to necessarily have a clear winner.  The goal is to let voters observe the process and see just what kinds of leaders these candidates would make.


Can you think of any other activities that would be similarly useful in achieving this goal?

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, 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...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jason from Iowa who lived in the last trailer on the right and was born on the 4th of July



The Ani DiFranco song 4th of July, which tells the story of a child she met while driving through Iowa, contains the following lyric:
He says his name is Jason
He lives in the last trailer on the right
And he'll be seven
On the fourth of July
This song is from Ani's 1993 album Puddle Dive, which means that, if Jason is real, he was at least 6 years old in 1993.

That means he's at least 29 years old now.  And every time this song comes up in my playlist, I wonder what happened to him.

Does he still live in the trailer park? Did he get married? Did he have children? Did he join the military and get PTSDed in Iraq? Did he go to university and become a professor of comparative literature? Has he ever heard this song? Does he know it's about him?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The first chair

Every once in a while, I see an article about how sitting is apparently terrible for our health, which makes me think about why and how it came about that we sit.

Humans sleep lying down, so you can see how we would stumble upon the notion of sitting as a transition point.  Early fires would most likely be built on the ground, so you'd have to sit to tend to or use or enjoy the fire.

When you visualize people sitting around a fire, they're often sitting on rocks or logs.  And you can see why a person would rather sit on a rock or log than on the possibly-damp probably-dirty ground.

And before we had furniture of any sort (including tables), it was probably more convenient to sit on the ground to do things like make clothes or butcher animals than it would be to stand up.

But then someone thought of tables for whatever reason (maybe things were cleaner when not at ground level even if people hadn't invented cleaning yet? Maybe vermin and animals couldn't get at stuff as easily if it was up higher?)  And then someone thought of the idea that it would be more comfortable to sit when working at the table than to stand, and figured out how to build a device to make that happen.

This has me wondering what the ratio of time spent sitting vs. standing was before we had furniture.  People had to stand to hunt or to farm, although they probably sat for things like meal preparation and making tools.  Which did they perceive as the default?  Did they make chairs to use at tables so they could sit like they usually did?  Or did they originally feel that table use was standing like they usually did and then make chairs for some other reason?

Or did they first make non-table chairs (whatever the early equivalent of couches or armchairs was) and then come up with the idea of using chairs at tables (or even the idea of tables) later?

Have there ever been any cultures where people didn't sit, at all, ever?  Have there ever been any cultures where they sat but didn't use chairs?  (I have the probably-stereotypical idea absorbed from the ether that they tended not to use chairs in Japan before Western influence.)

I also wonder if there have been any cultures with different postures that had their own furniture (i.e. not sitting, standing, lying down, kneeling, anything we have a verb for in English) but are now lost to history.  Or maybe they're not lost to history, I'm just ignorant of them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The first cleaning

Someone, at some point in human history, was the first person to clean.  Someone was the first person to discover that water washes dirt off (probably when a dirty person went for a swim or fell into some water, or got water on themselves in the process of drinking water), and then someone was the first person to do that intentionally.

Which means someone was also the first person to come up with the idea that having no dirt on something was superior to having dirt on it.  (It's also possible that someone came up with this idea before they figured out that water washed dirt off, so they were just thinking "Man, this situation would be way better if there was no dirt on this thing!" but couldn't do anything about it)  Possibly the situation that led to this thought was something drastic, like their food fell into a pile of woolly mammoth poo, but it's also possible that, in a world where it had never before occurred to anyone that food would be better with no poo on it, no one would perceive that as a drastic situation.

Before it occurred to anyone to bathe, everyone must have smelled. Which means that they were probably immune to the fact that everyone smelled.  So imagine the first person to bathe thoroughly enough to wash off their smell. Could they then smell everyone else?  Did they think "OMG, everyone smells!" or did they think "Man, I'm never using water to get the dirt of me again, because doing that makes everyone smell"?  Or did the dirty people think the clean person smelled?

And let's talk about soap!  Soap is made of fat and lye. Lye is made by leaching ashes. Who on earth figured that out??  And imagine trying to explain to other people that really, this will eventually make stuff cleaner!  Did they have other soap-like things before that are now lost to history because they were less effective?

When people lived outdoors or in caves, their floor was, obviously, dirt (or whatever the surrounding environment was made of - the floors of igloos might have been made of snow, for example). And then in the first human-constructed shelters, the floor would have been made of dirt as well. So someone was the first person to think of building a floor out of wood or whatever, and then someone else was probably the first person to think of cleaning the dirt off that floor!

Also, someone was the first person to think of dusting. Once indoors had been invented and material possessions that are kept indoors over long periods of time had been invented (which is a whole other thing, isn't it? The first clutter!), stuff started getting dusty. (Why doesn't stuff that's outdoors get dusty?)  Someone was the first person to realize this was a problem, and to think of wiping stuff down to remove the dust.