Sunday, January 31, 2016

Books read in January 2016


1. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee
2. The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford by John Filion 
3. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler
4. Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton 
5. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee 
6. Mirror, Mirror (short story anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan


1. Divided in Death
2. Visions in Death 
3. Survivor in Death 
4. Origin in Death

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Things They Should Invent: building emergency keys automatically summon the elevator

From an article about emergency response in highrise buildings:
Fire departments are supposed to have access to a universal elevator key, which gives firefighters sole access to elevators without public interference, the study notes. In contrast, only rarely in pre-hospital care systems do paramedics have access to a universal elevator key. “Availability of a universal key seems like a simple intervention, but it has remained unaddressed for decades,” Drennan wrote
In addition to giving keys to paramedics, they should also have a setup where opening the front (or other exterior) door of the building with the universal emergency key summons the elevator to the lobby.

Currently, firefighters can open building doors with a universal emergency key, and take control of elevators with a universal emergency key.  But they still have to make their way to the elevators before they can summon the elevators.

If the elevators started heading for the lobby as soon as emergency personnel enter the building, then the elevators can head to the ground floor as the emergency personnel head across the lobby. This would minimize waiting time, and the precious seconds gained could save more lives.

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, January 15, 2016

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition IX

14. If you complain that someone is doing X instead of Y when X and Y are in no way incompatible or mutually exclusive (e.g. "Instead of wasting your time campaigning for social justice, you should be getting an education"), you are banned for 24 hours from benefiting from multi-tasking (your own or anyone else's).  No watching TV while cooking, no reading on the subway, no listening to music while working out, nothing.

If you complain that X is being done instead of Y when X and Y are the responsibility of completely separate individuals or organizations (e.g. "Why are they putting all these resources into settling refugees instead of getting the traffic lights to sync up properly?"), you are banned for 24 hours from benefiting from the work of more than one individual or organization at once. No texting while you get your hair done, no eating dishes composed of multiple different foods, no enjoying both electricity and running water at once.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Things They Should Invent: the option to delete real words from the spellcheck dictionary

"Costal" is a real word. It means "of or relating to the ribs". And I very, very, very rarely have to use it in my translations.  However, I do have to use the word "coastal" with some frequency, and I tend to typo it as "costal" (or as something that autocorrects to "costal".)

"Pogrom" is a real word. It means "an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe". And I never have to use in my translations. However, I do have to use the word "program" quite frequently, and sometimes a combination of typo and autocorrect will change "program" to "pogrom".

I would like to have the option of removing these words and others like them from the spellcheck dictionary, so red squiggles appear underneath them as though they were typos. Because, despite the fact that they are real words, they are nevertheless typos. They're not supposed to be there, and I'd find it convenient to have them flagged as such.

I'd also like to have the option of having profanity, slurs, slang words for body parts and functions, etc. treated like typos. They most often aren't supposed to be in my work documents (I have had one or two interesting transcripts, but they were very much the exception), so it would be useful to flag them as such to avoid particularly embarrassing typos.  This seems like something Word could allow users to opt into or out of with a checkbox - and it would have the added bonus of pointing out potentially-controversial words to users who might be ignorant of the potential controversy (perhaps because they're sheltered, perhaps because they aren't writing in their first language), thereby allowing users to make an informed decision about whether to use these words.

The true purpose of spellcheck is not to provide a comprehensive list of "real words", but rather to help users catch errors. Sometimes an error can take the form of a perfectly valid word.  Allowing us to not just add words to the spellcheck dictionary but also to delete words from the spellcheck dictionary would enable spellcheck to better fulfill that mandate.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Curse of Knowledge: condo edition

I recently learned about a concept called the curse of knowledge.  Wiki defines it as "a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties."

This is a problem I keep running into when dealing with the condo situation: experienced homeowners and other real estate people can't even begin to fathom how utterly ignorant I am.

I recently blogged that builders should provide manuals for new homes, clearly describing all the maintenance for which new homeowners will be responsible.  In multiple separate conversations, I've mentioned that I want this because I don't want to have something go disastrously wrong because I didn't do some kind of preventive maintenance that I was completely unaware of.

And every single homeowner I've mentioned this to has the same response: "Like what?"

That's the problem exactly. I don't know like what. I have no idea what kinds of things I'm completely unaware of. Sometimes I respond to this with the example of filters that need changing that I gave in that blog post, and people invariably respond by listing all the filters that need to be changed. (Some of which I didn't know, thereby proving the need for this information, but there's no way that the maintenance for which I'm responsible can possibly be limited exclusively to replacing filters!)

The same thing happened when I expressed surprise and dismay that my developer didn't provide a list ahead of time of what kinds of finishes you have to choose between, so I could research them and actually know what I want.  They seemed shocked that I would have to research such simple decisions ahead of time. They eventually did provide to a list of impenetrable finish names that I'd never heard of before. I passed it on to my mother who said "Don't worry, I know all of these, you don't need to research anything."  But it turned out there were other decisions I had to make, which they hadn't thought noteworthy enough for a first-time buyer to need to research.

The same thing happens when I mention that I intend to hire and inspector to do my inspections because I haven't the first clue what you might be looking for in an inspection. ("Why waste your money hiring an inspector? All you have to do is look around and see if anything is wrong!")  The same thing happens when I mention that around the time of my move and finalization of my purchase I'm scaling back my schedule, taking some time off work, and not taking on any new commitments so I can give my full and immediate attention to anything unexpected that comes up ("What could there possibly be that's unexpected? And if there is something, just handle it!")

What's extra weird about this is experienced homeowners and real estate people kept "warning" me about things that already knew about (e.g. occupancy fees, maintenance fees) or don't care about (e.g. occupancy will most likely be delayed).  But no one seems to be able to give me the information I actually want, because they can't conceptualize not having it.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Things They DID Invent: a way to get alerted to new items in the library catalogue

I previously blogged that the library should invent a way to subscribe to a particular author or series. Ideally I wanted new titles from a particular author or series to be automatically added to my holds list, but, if that's too complicated, I'd be satisfied with an email alert.

I recently discovered that, while there still isn't an email alert, the library does provide an RSS feed for search results.  This means that I can search for an author or series, add the RSS feed to my feed reader, and get a notification when there's something new available that meets those search criteria.

For example, I blogged a while ago about how the library didn't have a print copy of a book I was looking for called Down the Rabbit Hole.  So after I searched for the book and found only an ebook available, I clicked on the "Subscribe to results" link at the top right, added it to my feed reader, and proceeded with life. And when the library finally got the print version, it show up right in my feed reader as I was scrolling through the day's updates.

The obvious flaw in this approach is that not everyone uses feed readers, but tools for converting RSS feeds to email alerts do exist. (I can't vouch for any particular tool since I don't use them.)

There's also a risk of getting too many false positives - for example, getting a new item in your feed every time the library acquires an existing title in a new format or languages. This could probably be mitigated with robust use of advanced search functions, although I haven't actually experimented with this yet.

I do still think email notifications would be optimal and automatic holds would be ideal, and I'm concerned that RSS might seem opaque to less techy users, but I am glad to see that there is an existing solution to the problem of wanting to know when there's a new title from your favourite author or series, and extra pleased that it's something I can use without any changes to my normal technology use patterns.