Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Books read in April 2014


1. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)
2. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
3. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


1. Memory in Death
2. Haunted in Death

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Things They Should Invent Words (and Natural Consequences) For

We need a word and natural consequences for that thing where people assume that the goal/motivation behind a particular action of yours is different from your actual goal/motivation, and then lecture you because that action isn't to achieve the goal that they've unilaterally attributed to you (which you aren't even trying to achieve in the first place).


"You shouldn't buy those Cortland apples.  You should buy Gala instead because they're organic."

Except my goal isn't to eat what's most optimally healthy or environmentally friendly, my motivation is to eat what's most yummy to me.

"You shouldn't buy that used widget on ebay.  You can get newer widgets for cheaper at Big Box Store."

Except my goal isn't to get the cheapest widget, it's to get the specific widget that's worked for me in the past when other widgets haven't.

"You shouldn't buy a new condo. The maintenance costs will go way up."  

Except my goal isn't to have maintenance costs that never go up, my goal is to live in a brand new building in a suite that no one else has ever lived in before.

Any ideas for names for this phenomenon or attendant natural consequences?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Attitude Carcinogen Free Body Wash

In the drug store, I saw a body wash that prominently announced "Carcinogen Free" on the label. The brand name is "Attitude", and the label specifies that the carcinogens of which it is free are 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.

So I started looking at the other body washes.  I grabbed a couple of random ones off the shelf (St. Ives and Aveeno), looked at the one I use (Ivory), and looked at the cheapest one (Rexall).  None of them contained 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide.

So it seems that the prominent "Carcinogen Free" portion of Attitude's label is just as meaningful and informative as the "body wash" portion of their label.

tl;dr: Buy my translation services, they're gluten-free!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A new personal best on Twitter!

Once upon a time, Eddie Izzard retweeted me.  It was the best thing that had ever happened to me on Twitter and I danced around like an idiot and called up people on the actual telephone to tell them that this had happened and saved the screenshot under the file name "I win at twitter".

Today a new personal best happened:

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, that's Eric Idle. Of Monty Python fame.  Replying personally (and nearly-immediately!) to a question I asked.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Things They Should Invent: memorial library books

Picture this: a loved one dies, so you donate a copy (or multiple copies) of their favourite book or books to the library.  The books get an elegant notation inside the cover saying "In memory of [name]", and are then added to the circulating collection. This means people who check out that book in the future learn about the existence of your deceased loved one and the fact that they enjoyed that book, thereby introducing your deceased loved one to like minds and kindred spirits. There could also be a webpage where there's a blurb about each of the memorialized people, so if the book you check out of the library turns out to be a memorial, you can look the person up and learn more about them.

Possible option: donate the deceased's own books to the library in their memory.  The suitability of this approach would depend on the nature and condition of the books (I doubt the library needs any more Harry Potters, or old dog-eared copies of books they already have better copies of) but if the books were suitable for donation it would certainly be an elegant approach.

Problems to which I don't yet have solutions:  what happens if a memorial book is lost or damaged? What happens if, after some time passes, the library needs to get rid of some of the memorial books?  (For example, they don't have nearly as many copies of Harry Potter as they had when the books first came out, so they've probably sold some copies.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Analogy for why you won't regret not doing things you don't enjoy

Between my introversion and the fact that I've been extremely fortunate to land exactly where I want to in life, I'm content.  My life is very simple, contains exactly what I want, and makes me perfectly happy.  Because of this, I don't feel the need to seek ambition or adventure.

 Sometimes I encounter people who think I should be seeking ambition or adventure anyway (especially in regards to travelling), because they think I'll later regret not doing it.  Even though I know full well that it would make me unhappy to do so, they seem to think I will look back and regret not doing the thing that will make me unhappy. Which I find absolutely bizarre!

Today my shower gave me an analogy:

Suppose, at some point in your adult life, you find that you're not able to get as much sex as you'd like.

That doesn't mean that you should have gotten in the car with the strange men who were driving by shouting obscene suggestions at you when you were 12 years old.

Even if some of those obscene suggestions ended up being activities you grew into with future partners - and even if, as an adult, you grow to miss them when circumstances aren't aligning to allow you to indulge in them - they weren't right for you back then.  Not at that age, not with those strange men.

And, looking back at it as an adult - even as an undersexed adult - you don't look back and regret not getting in that car with those strange men.  You recognize that it would have made you unhappy at the time, and that the unhappiness would stick with you as a bad memory, not as something your adult self will end up being glad you did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Filmed before a live studio audience

Some people dislike TV comedies that are filmed before a live studio audience, because they find the sound of audience laughter disruptive.

It surprises me that people who are my age and older can find this disruptive, because for the longest time it was baseline for comedies. Cosby Show, Cheers, MASH, Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Friends, Seinfeld, All In The Family, The Brady Bunch, Full House, Fresh Prince, even Monty Python - all kinds of major comedies over all eras of 20th century television had a live studio audience or a laugh track.

As moved from childhood to adulthood, I moved from children's television to sitcoms.  I suspect many people made the same transition, since adult (in the sense of "not specifically intended for children") comedy is generally more comprehensible and entertaining to a young person than adult drama. And all the sitcoms were filmed before a live studio audience.

So basically everything that formed my whole concept of what television actually is was filmed before a live studio audience.  And it seems like the same situation would stand for a lot of people.

This is why it surprises me that people whose formative television viewing was on similar shows would find it disruptive or distracting.  It seems like it should be no more disruptive distracting than watching TV in black and white if your first television set was black and white.  It might not be your very favourite format choice, but your brain should pretty much be immune to it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Icy Hot mystery

As I've blogged about before, I absolutely adore Icy Hot for muscle stiffness, but I've noticed something odd.  When I apply Icy Hot to a joint, it makes the adjacent joint a wee bit stiffer.

For example, when I apply it to my shoulder, it makes my elbow a bit stiffer, in that I feel a little something in the elbow and I feel the need to crack it more.  (And when I do crack it, it's louder).   When I apply it to my knee, my snapping hip syndrome gets louder and I become aware of an old injury in the metatarsal area.

If it makes a difference, I have observed this when using the Icy Hot cream, as opposed to the patches.  I haven't used the patches since I discovered the cream, so I can't tell you whether or not it also happens when I use the patches.

This atteinte of the adjacent joints is nearly negligible compared with the relief that Icy Hot brings me, but it's still very mysterious.  Any thoughts?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Half-formed idea: standardized two-step marriage proposal

Something I see from time to time in advice columns is a situation where one partner is ready to get married, and the other partner isn't.  This is often presented as a Serious Relationship Problem, and surprisingly often talked about as a Reason to End the Relationship. 

But one of the things that might happen in a relationship is that one partner is ready to marry before the other partner is.  This doesn't necessarily have to be a problem.  Two people may well have different emotional arcs that end up in the same place.  Everyone who becomes ready to marry was at one point not ready to marry (although, obviously, not being ready to marry doesn't necessarily mean that one day being ready to marry is inevitable), so for one person to be ready to marry before the other isn't necessarily a sign of long-term incompatibility.

There are some people in advice column forums who respond to anything about a partner who isn't proposing with "Well, then you should propose to them!" But that isn't necessarily going to solve the problem.  If the other party isn't yet ready to get married, that creates the awkward situation where they have to decline the marriage proposal, which could be a blow to the relationship. In general, a declined marriage proposal is seen as a setback in a relationship, whereas no marriage proposal yet is seen as a relationship progressing (perhaps normally, perhaps slowly), or perhaps stalled. Declining a marriage proposal is seen as backward movement, whereas not having proposed yet is neutral or slow forward movement.

So I suggest a two-step system:

When one party in the relationship (whom we will call "First") is ready to marry, they inform the other party (whom we will call "Second") through a standardized system/script/ritual.  Under the generally-accepted rules of this system, Second is not required or expected to give any response to the news that First is ready. It's the in-person equivalent of a facebook status update.

However, this means that Second is responsible for making the formal marriage proposal at such time as they are ready (like Penny and Leonard in Big Bang Theory). Second knows they'll get a yes (because First has already given them a yes), so there's no stress or worry about whether the proposal will be accepted.  It becomes a 100% guaranteed positive thing.

I don't really have a good idea for what form the first half of the proposal should take.  It could be as simple as First saying to Second "You're hereby responsible for marriage proposals in this relationship." Extrapolating from my new favourite Polish expression (which I am totally appropriating into English, BTW), First could give Second a toy monkey.  It doesn't really matter, it just needs to be standardized.  And it shouldn't count as an official Phase of the Relationship (like Living Together or Engaged), it's just a notification.

And, of course, if First finds themselves in a position where they want to end the relationship if an engagement isn't forthcoming (which apparently is a feeling some people do have sometimes), they are still allowed to propose to Second.  They just go in knowing they have a higher than average chance of getting a no and having to make difficult decisions from there.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What if the media stopped covering election campaigning?

I've blogged before about my displeasure with media coverage of Toronto elections.  Apart from the length problem (I still maintain they shouldn't start covering municipal elections until September, with voting day in late October), I wonder if a solution might be for media to stop covering the campaign trail completely.

I don't mean that they shouldn't cover elections, I'm just pondering whether it might be better if they didn't follow all the candidates around and report on the speeches they make and activities they do every day.

This would save media outlets a lot of time and resources.  And then they could put this time and resources into analyzing candidates' platforms and incumbents' records and fact-checking their statements, with the goal of providing us with a factual analysis free of spin.  And since the media are no longer spending all their time running around chasing the few candidates they have deemed front-runners, they'd have the time to analyze all the candidates.

Instead of hosting debates, they should conduct in-depth one-on-one interviews with the candidates with a cross-examination level of intensity. For video and audio media, these interviews should not be aired lived, but rather aired after there's been time to fact-check the candidate's statements.

In addition to all of this, print and online media especially should publish primers on the issues.  In doing this, they shouldn't allow the candidates to define the issues and their scope, but rather look at them as objectively as possible, with the goal of informing the uninformed, especially newcomers etc. who haven't been following all the issues for the whole election cycle.  At the municipal level, this would be especially useful for school board trustee elections, because all voters get to vote for school board trustees, but not all of us are students, teachers or parents and therefore we aren't all up on the issues within the school board.

I think the end result could be a far better signal to noise ratio in election coverage, and therefore make it easier for the uninformed to become informed.  It might also be more affordable for media outlets (especially for provincial and federal elections where there's a lot of travelling), and certainly less stressful for reporters.

It would probably also incentivize politicians to focus more on policy than on soundbites, because, under this model, campaign trail soundbites aren't going to get media coverage, but sound policy and knowledgeability (or lack thereof) are.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Does Mozilla actually benefit from me using Firefox?

So there are calls to boycott Firefox because its CEO has made anti-gay political donations.

My question: does my using Firefox actually benefit Mozilla or its CEO in any way?  I didn't pay for it.  I'm not being shown any advertising.  Does it actually have any impact on them?

This question is not purely academic.  As I blogged about before, I don't want to use Chrome because I don't like Google's sneaky attempts to manipulate me into using it.   But if we should be boycotting Firefox too, what am I supposed to do?  Use a subpar browser?  (I've used IE and Opera, and find them both less useful than Firefox or Chrome.)

On one hand, it seems more important to choose not to use Chrome, because my reasons for doing so are directly related to the company's business practices as they affect me as a consumer.  They keep inconveniencing me in an attempt to get me to use their browser, so I shouldn't reward this by using their browser.

On the other hand, you can't let convenience overrule a political boycott, or that completely defeats the purpose of a political boycott.

On the other other hand, if Google so very badly wants me to use Chrome (which users don't pay for either), there must be some benefit to a company if people use their browser.  Although Google and Mozilla have different corporate structures. Google has shareholders and stuff, whereas Mozilla doesn't. The internet tells me that the Mozilla Corporation is not non-profit, but its profits support the Mozilla Foundation, which is.

Normally I'd go ahead with the boycott, but in this case the user-friendly alternative is something I'm already boycotting.  Not sure what to do here.

Any thoughts?

Update: Some info via @AmyRBrown on Twitter (you can see the full conversation here):

A primary revenue source for Mozilla is money paid to them by Google when people access Google via the Firefox search box.  (The FAQ of Mozilla's 2012 Annual Report confirms this, and adds that they also get search box revenue from "Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Amazon, eBay and others".)

So an effective economic boycott would be not to use Google or any other revenue-generating search function in the search box.

Changing the search engine to Duck Duck Go should generate the same results without Google involvement, and there are also unofficial Google toolbar add-ons for Firefox that don't pass through the search box and therefore generate revenues.

I haven't yet figured out if my own preference of Wikipedia in the search bar generates revenues, or if there are other benefits to my using Firefox even if I'm not generating revenues for them.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother finale (contains allusions to spoilers)

When I read the last page of the last Harry Potter book, I was done.  I didn't need to visit the Potterverse any more.  That was the end.  I finished the fanfic stories I was in the middle of at the time, and then no more.  I didn't even watch the movies that came out after the book.  It wasn't a ragequit or anything, it was just closure.  I didn't cease to be a fan, but I just get nothing by going back.  (Fortunately, I had just recently discovered Eddie Izzard then, because Harry Potter was my previous primary fandom, and it would have left a huge gap if my next primary fandom hadn't already fortuitously come along!)

How I Met Your Mother just did the same thing to me.  I'm done.  Nothing gained by going back.  I wouldn't watch a rerun now.  I'm just done.

The ending was satisfyingly done for containing plot points I was dreading, but I'm still slightly mourning the fact that we aren't going to get to hang out with The Mother more.  Which is appropriate, I suppose, but it seemed to really marginalize her with the combination of the pacing and the ultimate resolution of the final episodes.

I'm kind of glad I only recently joined this show. I think I would have had a negative emotional reaction if I'd been following it with bated breath for nine years.