Thursday, March 31, 2016

Books read in March 2016


1. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe
3. Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger
4. Underground in Berlin by Marie Jalowicz Simon, translated by Anthea Bell 
5. Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay 
6. Downton Abbey: A Celebration by Jessica Fellowes 


1. Innocent in Death
2. Eternity in Death
3. Creation in Death
4. Strangers in Death

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

Recently, the Toronto Star's public editor wrote about people who want their letters to the editor unpublished because they're googleable.

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

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

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  But one of the reasons cited for requesting a letter to be unpublished is professional repercussions for the political views expressed.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

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

Where have all the anti-chafing gels gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rimmel Scandaleyes Precision Micro Eyeliner is none of the above

My default eyeliner is Rimmel Glam'Eyes liquid liner, which I appreciate in particular for its very thin brush, which allows a fine and precise line even with the dark liquid black I prefer.  My only qualm is that it isn't waterproof, and therefore needs to be touched up throughout the day.

On my last shopping trip, I noticed a new Rimmel product: ScandalEyes Precision Micro Eyeliner.  The packaging touted its fine tip and waterproof formula, so I thought this was just what I need!

Unfortunately, it doesn't do the job at all.

When I attempted to line my eyes using the tip of the pen, only a sporadic, sheer grey line came out. In frustration I scribbed with it on the back of my hand like it was a dead sharpie, and a darker line came out if I pressed down hard and used the side of the pen.  But that line wasn't narrow, and required pressing too hard to duplicate on my eyelids.  And even then, it wasn't consistently as dark as the liquid liner.

So, in short, this alleged precision micro eyeliner is not capable of providing a "precision" or "micro" line when used on the eyes.

The only part of its name that is accurate is the "scandal" part: it's a scandal that Rimmel would make a new product that's so inferior in every way to their old product. 

Dear Rimme: all you have to do is put a waterproof liquid liner in the same packaging with the same brush as the Glam'Eyes liquid.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If you haven't sponsored Eddie Izzard yet, now's the time!

Tomorrow is the last day of Eddie Izzard 27 marathons in 27 day challenge.

So far, he has completed 25 marathons in 26 days, after losing a day to a medical emergency.  So he decided he's going to make it up by running two marathons (84 km) tomorrow, even though he's never done a double marathon before.  And, because apparently that's not challenging enough, he then decided to up his last day's run to 90 km, in honour of South Africa's Comrades Marathon.

Eddie is scheduled to start his double marathon at 5 a.m. South African time (which is about 2 hours after I click Publish on this post), and to end 12 hour later. 

I ardently wish him all the good luck in the known universe, and sincerely hope that enough money is raised that everyone involved feels fully satisfied that this increasingly herculean undertaking was completely worthwhile.

You can follow Eddie's adventure live on BBC, Twitter, and Periscope, and donate via Sport Relief.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Downton Abbey thoughts (full spoilers)

- Much like I was disappointed about not seeing Tom and Sybil's life in Ireland, I was disapopinted about not seeing Tom and Sybbie's life in Boston.  Where did they live? What was the childcare situation? How did Sybbie adjust to living somewhere smaller? After growing up in a manor house, did she have any 5-year-old equivalents of a "What is a weekend?" moment?

- I'm glad they cast child actors who are capable of delivering the odd punchline!

- At one point, Mary tells the guy she ends up marrying that George inherits Robert's title "For reasons too complicated to bore you with."  That's 8 words and 12 syllables.  But "My late husband was my father's heir" is 7 words and 9 syllables!  It would be shorter to explain it!

- (Also the guy Mary ends up marrying and the guy Edith ends up marrying look too similar and I find their names psychologically interchangeable.  I kept getting them mixed up throughout the entire series. Couldn't they get more distinctive actors with more distinctive names?)

- At another point Robert bemoans the fact that Mary decides not to marry Tony on the grounds that "she isn't thinking about her future" or something similar (I can't find the exact quote). But she is exactly thinking about her future, and, more importantly, her son's future.  If she married Tony, she'd be mistress of his estate and wouldn't be able to care for Downton for George.  And if she has a son with Tony, she'd have another heir of another estate who also needs her attention just as much. To do right by George, she needed to marry someone who doesn't have an estate.

- At one point, it's mentioned that Edith doesn't use a lady's maid. I really want to know how she does her awesome hair without a maid's help! They could totally have showed it in passing in a dressing scene that serves as a background for plot-forwarding dialogue.

- Since Mary cut her hair, I thought the scenes of Anna brushing Mary's hair looked ridiculous. The brush was too big and Anna's brush strokes looked too gentle and ineffective.  But I later realized that this was a demonstration of the statement often repeated throughout the season that lady's maids were less necessary in these modern times! Anna's not doing anything with Mary's hair that Mary couldn't do herself just as easily (if not more so). 

- You know how there are political astroturfers who make twitter accounts with egg avatars, follow hashtags, and chime into other people's conversations hurling abuse against their employer's opponent? (Ubhmeathán!) Turns out they have those in the Downton Abbey twitter community! There are random eggs spreading anti-Edith and pro-Mary propaganda!

- But it does occur to me that Lady Mary wouldn't be above hiring an astroturfer. So that's an excellent role-play by that random twitter egg!

- This series jossed parts of my WWII Downton sequel idea, but I think we're still ripe for a WWII sequel:
  •  The kids will all be an appropriate age for military service or nursing or war work or whatever the plot needs them to do.
  •  Marigold could learn that her biological father was killed by Nazis and join some elite intelligence unit to help avenge his death.
  • George's military service (when he's probably too young to have married or produced a heir of his own) could create another succession crisis if they want to mirror that plotline.  
  • I was hoping the Bates baby could be a girl so George could marry her or want to marry her or cause a scandal about marrying her, but since he's a boy he could be George's batman, mirroring the relationship between Robert and Bates.
  • (Sybbie will marry that random little boy who wandered into Robert's room during the open house, because of course she will.) 
  • I had the idea of Lady Rose reuniting with her jazz singer in WWII London, but now that she's in the US she could reunite with him whenever the plot requires. Surely having a Jewish husband could inspire her into some social justice cause during WWII, and then this could be leveraged to make her eventuallybecome a US Civil Rights activist!
  • I'm glad that Thomas is now the butler, because I always liked the idea of the next generation of Downton having this scheming evil butler who's completely loyal to the new heir.  That would certainly be an interesting dynamic to play with.  Thomas may have had a last-minute heel-face turn, but I'm sure he's still capable of a good scheme, and we know he's loyal to George and to Sybbie, so the plot potential is there. Thomas was also a medic and helped run the convalescent home in WWI so an excuse could be found to drop him into any war-related plotline.
  • I also recently read that the real house used to film Downton was used to house evacuee children during WWII, which would be an interesting plotline!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

We can't assume we'll have fewer expenses in retirement

Conventional retirement planning wisdom is that you'll have fewer expenses in retirement, citing the absence of expenses such as parenting, commuting, office clothes, etc.

I don't think this is a safe assumption because of telecommunications trends in recent decades.

For my entire lifetime, the trend has been towards new technologies that require a monthly subscription. Telephones developed touch tone and voicemail and call display.  TV moved from antenna to cable, with more and more channels and more complicated and expensive packages.  The internet became common in people's homes, requiring a monthly subscription. Cell phones became common, requiring another monthly fee, and then smartphones with significantly higher fees. There even seems to be an trend away from mp3s and towards music streaming services with monthly fees (which baffles me - that's like not listening to your albums any more and instead listening to radio exclusively, and paying for the privilege).

If you retired in 1995 at the age of 65, your budget may well not have included internet, cell or data. In 2015, you'd be 85.  There's a good chance you'd still be alive, there's a fairly decent chance you'd still have a reasonable amount of cognition and live independently, but internet, cellphones and data plans would all have become part of normal household telecommunications.  You may well not have even thought of these things in your budget when you retired in 1995, but you'd be increasingly deprived without them as you enter old age.

I see no reason why we can assume this trend would reverse, so when budgeting for the expenses of future decades, we have to assume additional, unforeseen telecommunications needs.

At this point, some people are thinking "surely we have enough telecommunications now - future telecommunications would be luxuries, not necessities."  (Some people also probably think the same thing about internet access, but I suspect they aren't reading my blog.)  But there's three things to keep in mind about this:

1. As new telecommunications technologies become more common, they become more part of the baseline. Think about how many of your income tax forms you have to download from the internet now compared with 1995. (Was it even an option in 1995?) Think about how many things you can't do without an email address.  You need a touchtone phone to access almost any business.  Already we have some services that can only be accessed with an app on a smartphone -  you can't order an Uber using a computer, for example.  So if you deprive yourself of future technology, you're making it increasingly difficult for yourself to fully participate in society.

2.  What we think of as nifty online services become increasingly valuable as a person begins to decline.  Grocery Gateway would be a saviour for someone who isn't mobile enough to get to the grocery store themselves!  Imagine if a person who is beginning to develop dementia could say "Siri, where am I supposed to be?" and Siri would know the answer and give them directions?  Or perhaps even do so pre-emptively to keep them from getting lost in the first place?  Or, on a 20th-century level, think of how with Call Display you can tell your grandmother "Don't answer if you don't recognize the caller" to protect her from scammers, and voicemail will make sure that she doesn't actually miss any important calls she might miss with aggressive use of Call Display.

3. Even if future telecommunications do end up being luxuries, your own retirement planning is not about some hypothetical senior citizen who isn't into technology or who you have unilaterally declared can do without luxuries. It's about you. Do you want to deprive yourself of self-driving cars or holodecks or playing games with your grandchildren via 4D Facetime or whatever the future holds?  Do you want budgetary considerations to put your 90-year-old self in the position of a person who today can't get to the grocery store themselves but also buy their groceries online?

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to anticipate what future telecommunications expenses will end up being.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone know?

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

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

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

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