Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books read in September 2015


1. The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother and Me by Cathie Borrie
2. Muse by Jonathan Galassi
3. Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan
4. Serving Victoria: Live in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
6. Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
7. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton


1. Conspiracy in Death
2. Loyalty in Death
3. Witness in Death
4. Thankless in Death
5. Judgment in Death
6. Betrayal in Death
7. Interlude in Death

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Vote

This post is part of my Voters' Resources post.

1. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision of Canada (hereinafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision of Canada (hereinafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

2. Based on your own needs and your own vision for Canada, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

3. If it is more important to you that the Best Party wins, vote for the Best Party. If not, continue to the next step.

4. If it is more important to you that the Worst Party does not win, assess the Worst Party's chances of winning in your riding. Not in the country as a whole, just in your riding. If you feel that there's too great a risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party. If you feel the risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding is acceptably low, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: do NOT use national polls to inform any strategic voting you might choose to do. Your vote is only effective in your riding. No matter how earnestly you vote, you cannot cancel out votes in another riding. Vote strategically only if the situation in your very own riding demands it, regardless of what the rest of the country is doing.

Links to party platforms will be provided in the upcoming Voter's Resources post. Further information on how to assess parties' chances in your riding and other aspects of effective strategic voting are provided in the How To Vote Strategically post.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Things They Should Invent: reconcile Vote Compass and Political Compass

When I took the Vote Compass quiz, I was surprised to see that the relative positions of the Green Party, Liberal Party and NDP were different from their relative positions on Political Compass.

I want to make it clear: I'm not complaining that one of the axes is inverted (although it is) or that the scales are different (although they are).  I'm saying that the positions of the parties relative to each other are different on the two tools.

On Vote Compass, the Green Party was the furthest left economically.  In other words, if you drew a line of best fit through the plot of all the parties, their order, from left to right, would be Green, NDP, Liberal and Conservative

On Political Compass, NDP was furthest left economically.  In other words, if you drew a line of best fit through the plot of all the parties, their order, from left to right, would be NDP, Green, Liberal and Conservative.

They can't both be right. Someone, somewhere, must be missing something.  And it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an ordinary voter to figure out who might be missing what.

I'd love to see the Vote Compass people and the Political Compass people get together, discuss their interpretations of the platforms, and arrive at a consensus about the relative positions of the parties.

Both tools are trying to achieve the same thing - trying to give voters objective information about which parties best align with their own political views. They could better achieve this, and appear more objective and more credible, by pooling their respective expertise and arriving at a consensus.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The first jokes

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get to the other side!
That was the first joke I ever learned, when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old.  Before I learned that joke, I had never even heard of the concept of a joke. While googling to learn about its age and origin, I was surprised to discover that it is in fact an anti-joke. Expectations at the time were that the answer would be a humorous punchline, not a simple, practical statement of cause and effect.

But, just like "to get to the other side" was once novel and revolutionary, the basic riddle/joke format of asking a person a question to which you expect an answer so you can give a humorous answer instead was also once new and revolutionary.  Someone, somewhere in history, was the very first person to do it.  And someone was the very first person to think of it!  They not only wrote the joke (and it must have been a good joke for the format to persist), they also thought of the whole format.

I wonder how that very first joke went?  Since it was unprecedented, the person being told the joke probably gave a serious answer to the question, having no way of knowing that anything else might be expected.  Did they get the joke?  Did they think it was funny?  They might not have since it was so unprecedented (and they might feel a bit perplexed or made a fool of because they thought they were being asked for actual information and acted accordingly), but enough people thought it was funny that it stuck.

Q: Knock knock!
A: Who's there?
Q: Boo!
A: Boo who?
Q: Don't cry, it's only a joke!

That was the first knock-knock joke I remember ever being told, also when I was around 3 or 4 years old (probably the same day I learned about the chicken - I have fuzzy memories of a revelatory day when I learned all about jokes), and I didn't get it because I didn't know that "boo hoo" was meant to be onomatopoeia for crying.

Knock-knock jokes also require precedent to function, since they require audience participation. I don't remember being explicitly taught the script, but I must have either been taught it or seen it repeated on TV.

But someone thought of the knock-knock joke, and taught someone else the script so it would function (or, like, wrote it into a play or something).  And, somehow, it stuck!

Someone made the first pun.  Someone was the first to use sarcasm. (And, possibly, someone else was the first person to use it successfully.) Someone was the first to fake farting on the grounds that they thought it was funny.  Someone thought of and carried out the first practical joke.  (It may even have been one of our primate ancestors - I'm sure at some point a monkey has slipped on a banana peel!)  And all of these stuck, and got perpetuated.

What's even more interesting is that an unknowable number of other types of jokes that we've never heard of must have been thought of and attempted throughout human history, but they didn't stick because they weren't funny enough.

And this is still going on!  It's quite possible that right this minute, somewhere in the world, someone is thinking of and attempting an all new type of joke that no one has ever thought of before, only to fail utterly.

It's also quite possible that right this minute, somewhere in the world, someone is thinking of and attempting an all new type of joke that no one has ever thought of before, and it will succeed and spread!  Memes (in the sense of pictures with words on them that circulate on the internet) were developed within my adult life.  Those videos where people caption a Hitler movie to reflect current events started after YouTube was invented, so that's within the last 10 years (and quite possibly much more recently).  Someone might, this very minute, be inventing the next knock-knock joke, which, decades or centuries from now, will be retold by a preschooler who has just learned of the very concept of jokes.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parental influence is terrifyingly persistent

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I asked my mother why the word "university" has the word "universe" in it.  She told me that it's related to the word "universal", meaning "for everyone".  (Which is fairly accurate, according to the OED entry. There are more nuances, but it's a perfectly reasonable explanation if your audience is a small child.)

So I thought about this, and about what I knew about universities.  I'd been on a university campus before, and I knew there were a wide range of people there.  There were old people with beards and white hair, people like my father who worked there, grownups who were younger than my parents walking around in crowds and sometimes doing silly things, and kids like me who took swimming lessons and gymnastics classes on campus. When my parents talked about their time as university students, they mentioned having classmates and professors from all kinds of different places all around the world. And my parents themselves sometimes took continuing education classes at the university.

In short, all kinds of different people from all kinds of different places of all kinds of different ages doing all kinds of different things.  My mother's explanation seemed accurate: universities are for everyone.

What's interesting is the lifelong impact that this little conversation had on my thinking.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine had to kill some time between appointments and was trying to figure out what to do. She was near a university campus, so I suggested that she go on campus and find a coffee shop or a library or a quiet corner with a seat and some wifi.  She was reluctant to do that because she was older than the typical university student and felt like she'd be out of place. But I was completely baffled that anyone could ever feel this way - universities are for everyone!

In my own university classes, we had our fair share of mature students.  I didn't think to question it, because universities are for everyone. I later heard some classmates talk about being weirded out by the presence of older students, and I was shocked into speechlessness that anyone would feel that way. How is it not glaringly obvious that universities are for everyone?

And even now, as an adult who is older than the "older" students whose presence weirded out my undergrad classmates, even knowing that there are undergrad students who feel that way, I wouldn't hesitate to go back to school if I should ever find myself in a situation where it's the correct decision for me.  Because I know, intrinsically and instinctively, that university is for everyone.

I'm quite certain my mother wasn't intentionally trying to instill in me a sense of comfort and belonging at institutions of higher education.  I wouldn't even be surprised if she didn't actually know that the word "university" was in fact derived from the word "universal", and was just saying something that sounded plausible to get me to shut up because that was the 4738th question I'd asked her that day.

But, nevertheless, I internalized this passing remark to the extent that my brain doesn't even question it, even though I know full well that it's just a passing remark that I unduly internalized and that many people in the world believe it to be untrue.

Isn't that terrifying?

Monday, September 07, 2015

The first beauticians

Someone, at some point in human history, was the first person to cut hair.  Maybe they didn't even cut it - maybe they they just broke it off by hand, and later had the idea of applying blades or sharp stones or whatever.

And then, someone was the first person to cut hair for aesthetic reasons (rather than just because it got in the way or "Hey, let's see what happens!").  And someone was the first person to figure out that if you cut it a certain way it will fall a certain way. Someone invented bangs.  Someone invented layers.

Someone invented braiding.  I don't know if they first did it with human hair or to make rope.  The idea of weaving strands together so they'll stay put in a single, cohesive whole had never before occurred to any human being, but someone not only thought of it, but also figured out how to do it.

Someone invented the idea of tying or clipping hair back.  It seems glaringly obvious, but someone must have been the first (even if it was just the first human being who also had their hair get in the way.)  Someone figured out the idea of a hair tie. Someone figured out the idea of a hair clip. Someone figured out a bun, and someone figured out that if you stick a stick through a bun it will stay.

Someone invented shaving. They came up with the idea of scraping the sharp thing along the skin to remove all the hair rather than cutting the hair further from the skin or pulling it out at the root.  Some came up with the paradigm-shifting idea that not having hair where hair naturally grows might be aesthetically superior to one's natural state.  Someone came up with the idea that if you apply stinky gunk to body hair and press a piece of cloth on it and pull the cloth out, the hair will come out.  Someone came up with the idea of inventing chemicals that would cause the hair to just fall out.  Someone though of zapping the hair with electricity and with lasers.

Someone was the first to think of dyeing hair.  Actually, someone was the first to think of dyeing anything. Before that, it never occurred to anyone that you could change the colour of stuff!  Or maybe they stumbled upon it by accident - fell into a vat of blueberry soup or something.

Someone invented piercings.  "So what I'm going to do is stick a sharp thing through your flesh to make a hole. Then you can put shiny things in the hole. It will be pretty!"

For that matter, someone invented jewellery. Someone was the first person to think that wearing shiny things is pretty, and everyone agreed!

Someone invented tattoos.  Someone thought of the idea of drawing something on their body permanently, and someone figured out that if you stick ink in your skin with a needle it will do just that.  Or maybe they didn't intend it to be permanent and it was all an accident! (Although that wouldn't explain why they were sticking ink-covered needles in skin in the first place.)

Friday, September 04, 2015

When the blinking stops

On the front of my cable box is a digital clock, displaying the time in big green letters with the colon between the hours and the minutes blinking once per second.

Every once in a while, I happen to glance at the clock and the colon appears not to be blinking.

I find this hypnotic. 

My eyes are drawn to it like magnets. I cannot blink, cannot move, cannot look away. I stare and stare, mesmerized, until my eyes are about to begin to water.  Then, just as I reach the point where I can no longer fight off the urge to blink my eyes, the clock starts blinking again.

I've always said that one thing I'd wish for if I had a genie was a remote control that can control the passage of time.  I'm sure we've all had that kind of day where we'd love to press the pause button and take a nap.

Maybe these moments where the clock appears to stop blinking is a clue that someone already has one...