Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books read in August 2016


1. Devoted in Death
2. Wonderment in Death
3. Brotherhood in Death
4. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
5. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
6. Citizen: Am American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 


1. Obsession in Death
2. Naked in Death

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Things They Should Study: do political positions correlate with attitudes towards politically-incompatible celebrities?

Sometimes the celebrities I follow on Twitter get people telling them to shut up about politics and stick to entertainment.

This is something I find difficult to understand. 

I do see why someone might not want incompatible political opinions turning up in their Twitter feed.  But what I don't understand is why you'd want to keep following someone once you know that they hold these incompatible opinions.

When someone has incompatible politics (by which I don't mean simply that I don't agree with them, but rather that I see their position as outright harmful and/or cruel) I'm not able to respect them enough to be a fan of them. I cease to be interested in their day-to-day life and thoughts, and most likely in their work as well.  Even if for some reason I do maintain interest in their work (for example, perhaps if one member of an ensemble cast for a major fandom has incompatible politics) I no longer have any desire to hear from them as an individual, just to see the finished work.

It would be interesting to study this on a broader level.  Are there any patterns of the political opinions or affiliation of people who want to continue following politically-incompatible celebrities but not hear about their politics, as compared with people who lose interest in politically-incompatible celebrities, as compared with people who can cheerfully continue following a celebrity without regard for their incompatible politics.

They could also study whether there are patterns in real-life relationships as opposed to celebrity-fan relationships, but I find the celebrity-fan relationship particularly interesting because it's unidirectional. If a parent holds political opinions you consider harmful, there's an element of "How can you bring a child into the world and then work politically to make the world a worse place?" But the celebrity has no loyalty or attachment to the individual fan and the fan adores the celebrity, so it's an interesting and unique dynamic.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why can you mail packages in street mailboxes?

Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Mailing a package in a Canada Post mailbox
Those red Canada Post mailboxes you see on the sidewalks have a small silver flap into which you can put individual letters, and a larger pull-down door into which you can put packages, as shown at right.

Mailboxes have been like this for as long as I can remember.  Even when I was a child in the 1980s, ever mailbox I saw (some of which, I'm sure, long predated the 1980s) had the large opening for packages.

Which raises the question: why would anyone put a package in a street mailbox? Correct postage for a package varies depending on size and weight, and, even if you could reliably calculate the postage at home, people rarely have a wide selection of different denominations of stamps that would enable them to affix correct postage.  Under normal circumstances, you'd have to go to a post office.  So why would a person ever put a package in the mailbox?

Of course, in the 21st century, the answer is ecommerce. When returning a product from a website with free returns (and perhaps under other circumstances of which I'm unaware), sometimes you get a shipping label that you can stick on a package and pop it right into a mailbox without having to go to the post office.

But mailboxes were designed to accommodate packages long before ecommerce was a thing!  Why?  Under what circumstances did people mail packages in street mailboxes back in the day?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Late-breaking story on the CBC

I know this has already been thoroughly commented on in many, many places, but I feel the need to post it here for the record:

The CBC's coverage of the Tragically Hip's final concert was an outstanding example of our public broadcaster meeting the needs of Canadians.

We had a need that could be met with a television broadcast.  But, at the same time, this need was not super compatible with the conventions of television broadcasting.  The format required it to be commercial-free, despite the fact that it was in prime time and had a huge number of viewers.  And it happened to be during the Olympics, for which the CBC held broadcasting rights.  It was of unpredictable duration.  The content would likely contain some swear words.  Canadians abroad needed to be able to see it just as much as Canadians at home.

And the CBC overcame all these obstacles to make it happen, prioritizing the needs of Canadians rather than bureaucratic or penny-pinching requirements or the need to put commercials in front of eyeballs.  They could just as easily (actually, far more easily) have shrugged their shoulders and said "Sorry, we're committed to the Olympics", or "Well, we have to run commercials to earn our keep," or "You can't say 'fuck' on television!" or "Broadcast only available in Canada" and we wouldn't even have noticed. But instead they stepped up, figured out a way to make it work, and served a huge number of Canadians - more than twice the number of Canadians who voted for the winning party in any election in my lifetime!

Many people noticed and appreciated this, and I hope that creates and sustains the political will to give the CBC the resources it needs to keep meeting our needs in the future, even when they don't correspond tidily with the conventions of broadcasting.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New rule: don't hold a glass door open unless your hand is on the handle

Glass door with vertical handle
Many of the doors I pass through in my day-to-day life are made of glass with a single vertical handle on the side opposite the hinge, like in the image to the right (click to embiggen).

Often, as with other kinds of doors, the person in front of me will try to hold the door for me even after they've taken their hand off the handle, by putting their hand on the glass part of the door.

The problem with that is it leaves fingerprints on the door, which some poor cleaning person will have to clean off!

Barring extenuating circumstances, cleaning fingerprints off glass is far harder than opening a door! By holding open the door with your hand on the glass, you're making a net negative contribution to other people's ease and comfort, not a net positive contribution.

Therefore, I propose that putting one's hand on the glass of the door should be considered rude, and doing so in the course of holding it open for someone who is perfectly capable of holding it open themselves should not be considered polite enough to outweigh the rudeness.

(Holding the door for someone who is genuinely unable to open the door because their hands or full or they're not strong enough or something is polite enough to outweigh the rudeness, but we should nevertheless endeavour not to touch the glass.)

And if you really feel that you would be perceived as rude if you're not seen holding the door open for someone, all you have to do is keep your hand on the handle for as long as possible as you walk through, ending with your arm stretched out all the way (and perhaps looking expectantly back), like this gentleman.

(Although the optimal way is still to be completely on the outside of the door, like this gentleman.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another analogy for being incapable of faith

Some clever internet person once said atheism is a religion like not playing golf is a sport.

As I've blogged about before, I'm an atheist because I'm congenitally incapable of religious faith. Today my shower tweaked this analogy to apply to the kind of atheism that results from congenitally incapable of faith.

Think about Olympic weight-lifting, where they have those ridiculously huge weights and lift them over their heads while making an enormous amount of noise.

Imagine you can't lift those weights. Even if you take them apart, you can't lift the individual components.  Furthermore, you were raised to think that being able to lift the weights was morally imperative, so you spent several years diligently engaged in a regime that, to the best of the knowledge available, would maximize your chances of being able to lift the weights.  But you never developed the ability to lift the weights.

So, atheism is a religion like not being able to lift the weights is a sport.

And faking religion despite being an atheist would be like claiming to be a weight-lifter, talking loudly about your training regime, making sure you're seen at the gym, but still not being able to lift the weights.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How did the logistics of money work back when money only existed tangibly?

I watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones recently (don't think I'm going to continue - the gory parts visit me in my dreams - so you don't have to worry about spoiling me), and I found myself wondering how the logistics of money worked in that era.

(I know Game of Thrones isn't actually a historical era, but there would have been a period of time when money worked similarly in real-life history.)

At various points in the story, wealthy characters go on extremely long journeys. Sometimes during these journeys they need to spend money on things, and sometimes not all these expenses are anticipated. For example, at one point, a character invites another character to travel with him and offers to pay his way.  At another point, a character who has temporarily relocated to the king's castle while leaving most of his household at home in his own castle hires a swordfighting instructor for his daughter, even though, when he left home, he didn't know this would be a necessity.

Since they didn't have bank accounts or the ability to wire money, their money was actual coins, or perhaps jewels and other valuables.  So if they're away from home (where, presumably, their actual tangible money lives), they have to take some coins with them to cover their expenses during the journey.

But what if they misestimate their expenses and run out of the coins that they brought with them, but still have plenty of money at home in their keep or vault or Scrooge McDuck-style money room or wherever it was they'd keep their wealth?  Was there some for them to get more money other than sending a runner for it?  (If so, were there occasionally fraudulent runners coming to castles where the lord was away and saying they'd been sent by the lord to bring him 1000 gold coins?) Or did nobility occasionally get stranded on their journeys because they didn't bring enough coins with them?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The tale of the door-opening hypocrite

I was heading into my building just as two older gentlemen were heading out. Our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time, so I picked up my pace a touch so I could get there first, figuring that if I'm the one who unlocks the door, they won't have to make the choice between politeness (i.e. opening the door for me) and building security (i.e. letting me in without knowing whether I'm authorized.)  As I pass them, I hear one of the men say to the other "In the old days, girls would let you be a gentleman and open the door for them!" Meh, whatever. I don't owe him an explanation, so I just proceed as though I haven't heard him.

A couple of days latter, I'm once again heading into the building and the man who made that comment is once again heading out. This time he's accompanied by a small child, and, once again, our respective paces would have had us arrive at the front door at the same time. But then the child starts running to push the wheelchair button before I get to the door. So I slow my pace a touch to let the kid get to the button first, figuring the man has already seen me unlocking the door and knowing that pressing the button will probably make the kid's day.  Then the man calls for the kid to stop, so I let myself in. To my surprise, as I'm walking past them, I hear him explaining to the kid how you shouldn't press the button if someone's coming in because you don't know if they live in the building or not.

It's interesting to me that this gentleman felt the need to either fake wanting to let me in for the benefit of his gentleman friend or to fake not wanting to let me in for the benefit of the child.  And I can't even tell which one was real and which one was fake.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Analogy for explaining the joke

I previously blogged about how humour is like sex.

Building on that:

Some people, when they attempt to tell a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, start explaining the alleged joke. As though it's not possible that the alleged joke wasn't funny, and the only possible explanation is that the audience didn't understand it.

That's like trying out a move you read about on the internet and then, when it doesn't work, earnestly explaining to your partner how the internet told you that's where the g-spot is supposed to be.

No matter how solid your theory is, the fact of the matter is it didn't hit the spot. And explaining it isn't going to induce the desired pleasure.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ad-supported media should never have worked in the first place

There's been a lot of media talk recently about how declining advertising revenues put various media outlets and websites at risk and how websites especially are taking extraordinary efforts to get ads in front of people who don't want to see them.

And in all of this, it occurs to me: it's bizarre that ad-supported media has lasted this long in the first place!

I can see why a business might consider spending a certain amount of money to make potential customers aware of it. And I can see why a media outlet might consider offering paid placements.

But it doesn't even make sense that businesses would be willing to spend so much on advertising that it supports the existence of entire media outlets, to the point of being their primary or only source of revenue!

Think about all the ads you're exposed to in a day. How many do you even notice?  (If you're like me, you're not even looking at the parts of the newspaper pages where they put the ads, or going to the bathroom during commercial breaks.) Of these, how many do you pay attention do? Of these, how many affect your purchasing decisions? Maybe a handful over a lifetime, compared with the dozens (hundreds?) you're exposed to every day.

How is that worth businesses' while to pay for?

The decline of the advertising model is a market correction. Something that never made sense in the first place is ceasing to function. Yes, it's inconvenient, but it was inevitable, long before the dawn of the internet or of ad blockers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why do some plugs and cables wear out?

My earbuds stop working every few months. First one ear goes, then both of them.  It seems to happen whether I buy them cheap or mid-range. (Haven't tried expensive ones myself, but other people have told me they wear out too.)  This has been happening since I was a teenager using them to listen to a walkman, and it continues at the same rate even now that I work from home (which is relevant because I use my earbuds for far fewer hours a day and they also spend much less time being knocked around in my purse.)

The Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter that I use to connect my external monitor to my computer wears out every couple of years. First the image doesn't always appear on the external monitor when I close the computer lid (I have to open the lid to get to the power button), then it starts taking multiple unplugs and replugs for the image to show up on the external monitor, then the monitor starts blinking out at random times, and finally it does this weird thing where the whole computer freezes when I try to switch to the monitor.  Then I get a new adapter, and everything goes back to normal.

I had the same problem with the cable that connected my cellphone to my computer, back when such a thing was possible. It would just stop working every few months.

Why does this happen?  These things are basically just plugs and wires. What exactly would cause them to stop functioning?

And why doesn't it happen with things like kettles and toasters and lamps, which also have plugs and wires?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Things They Should Invent: plane crash edition

Reading this article about people who want to take their luggage with them when evacuating plane crashes gives me ideas for a couple of inventions.

1. Public awareness of what happens to plane crash survivors

When later asked to explain their actions, most passengers cited a desire to rescue their money, wallets or credit cards. 
You can see how a person would get there. The idea of being stuck somewhere, maybe in a foreign country, without money, ID or credit cards is scary. So they need a public awareness campaign of what measures are in place to help plane crash survivors in the immediate aftermath and days following. How do they get the medical care they need without their health card or insurance information? What's their legal status if they're in a foreign country but have lost their passport in the plane crash? How do they get home without money or credit cards, and how do they get food and shelter and replacement clothing in the interim? How do they get back into their home country without ID?

There have been enough plane crashes over the years that it seems like there should be a protocol in place for these things. If there is, they should let us know how it works. If there isn't, they should make one and then let us know how it works.

2. Fireproof luggage

The motivation for wanting to take your carry-on bag when evacuating an airplane is that you don't want to lose the contents. Even if insurance gives you money to replace it, you can't just go and buy the teddy bear who's been with you since you were a baby or the discontinued underwear you haven't yet found a comfortable replacement for.

But imagine if the bag was fireproof. You leave it behind, the inferno burns around it, and after the fire has been put out everyone's luggage can be retrieved. You're deprived of your essentials for a few hours, not for the whole rest of your life.

There are fireproof/fire-resistant materials used for firefighters' and astronauts' protective gear, and I'm sure there are other fireproof things in the world of which I'm not even aware. Perhaps that would be a good starting point.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Emotional labour braindump

I've recently been reading this epic MetaFilter thread about emotional labour, and it's been very educational and made me realize quite a number of things, some of which I'm braindumping here and others of which will need to be their own posts.

The thread uses a very broad definition of emotional labour, and I find that broad definition useful so I'm using it too. Things that are perhaps on the periphery of the scope of emotional labour (like housework) are actually things that I have the same relationship with as I do with things that are universally agreed upon as emotional labour, so if it's in my blog post, it counts!

- I am terrible at emotional labour and, at the same time, I greatly value it in others. My absolute relationship fantasy is someone who would take care of 100% of the emotional labour in the relationship. I'd gladly do literally everything else in exchange for emotional labour. But, obviously, that would never work out. Even if it could work as an emotional dynamic, someone who is that giving and awesome could do way better than me.

- The specific way in that I'm bad at emotional labour is that I don't see the opportunities. My brain just doesn't make the necessary connections. I'm the person sitting at the table not realizing people have started clearing the table until it's too late for me to help. At a family gathering where everyone but me was helping clean up, I could see that I should be doing something helpful, but didn't see what to do. So, being the mature and competent adult I am, I asked my mother. She stopped what she was doing, looked around, and told me to put empty pop cans in the recycling and empty disposable cups in the garbage. I literally did not see that a task that needs doing is putting the garbage in the garbage!

- I want to be better at emotional labour because it's something I want to be able to do for people I care about. (And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that my poor emotional labour skills are the reason why I'm unmarriageable.) But when I try to do it proactively, I just end up doing things that aren't helpful and are probably intrusive or disruptive and people are staring at me like WTF are you doing?  Best case, they say thank you to close the matter but don't actually mean it.

- However, the fact that I'm terrible at emotional labour also means I don't get stuck doing it for people I don't care about. I don't get sucked into keeping up appearances or organizing office social events or playing cruise director or who knows what else because I simply can't see what might hypothetically need to be done, the same way I couldn't see the garbage that needed to be put in the garbage.

- I've been wondering over the years why I don't really end up with users or emotional vampires in my life, and I think this might be why - I literally can't give them what they need!

- One of the kinds of emotional labour described in the thread that I actually do is sending greeting cards. But I don't do it for the right reasons. I don't do it because the recipients will appreciate it - I can't tell whether or not they actually appreciate it. I do it because it's the sort of thing I appreciate - I love getting mail! I'm doing unto others, but, as I've mentioned before, my Do Unto Others often doesn't work. I can't figure out how to do the actual emotional labour, so I'm doing a simulacrum of it.

- This also made me realize that emotional labour is one of the reasons why I'm So Done with people who are politically incompatible. It's a combination of the labour I have to do and the labour that they're failing to do. When they start advocating for policies that hurt people, I have to decide whether to speak up (and make the conversation less pleasant) or let it slide (and leave them with the impression that their position is objectively okay and that I think their position is okay). I have to read whether they are a person who can be swayed with information or whether they'll just take that as an invitation to argue. And I have to do the work of changing the subject to something that would be pleasant for everyone to talk about, despite the politically incompatible person's efforts to stay on their chosen topic. And this is because they're not doing the work of finding and sticking to topics that everyone would enjoy discussing. There are people who don't think politics should make a difference in social interactions and would say that you shouldn't let politics stand in the way getting to know someone who could be an awesome person, but I already have plenty of awesome people in my life who don't require that work.

- Most of what I dislike about being single is the absence of a certain individual, not the absence of a theoretical partner. But the one exception is I dislike not having a default person. When I need a person, I have to ask around and find someone who is willing to go out of their way for me. My people are awesome so I've never not found a person (and I'd say about 80% of the time the first person I ask says yes), but I still have to ask. Can you walk with me to the subway and let me text you when I get home? (Whereas if I had a partner they would be coming home with me.) Can you come over here whenever you have a moment and help me move the thing I can't lift myself? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just ask them the grab the other end of this.) Can you buy me that one thing I need for my phobias but can't buy myself because of my phobias? (Whereas if I had a partner, I'd just add it to the shopping list next time they're doing errands.)  I always have to ask.  So, as I read about emotional labour, I realize that maybe I wouldn't have to ask when I need a person if I knew how to be a person well enough to do the emotional labour so my partner wouldn't have to ask.

But, despite this realization, I can't just fake it like I did with Entitlement, because the whole problem is I don't see the things that need doing.

However, despite all that, emotional labour is not something I want to learn to so do I can make people like me. It's something I want to learn to to for people who already like me for the person I already am.