Monday, October 31, 2016

Books read in October 2016


1. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
2. Down The Rabbit Hole (anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan
3. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin


1. Ceremony in Death
2. Vengeance in Death

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Things They Should Invent: website comparing hotel beds

I recently stayed in Marriott hotel, and I found the bed uncomfortable. The mattress was too firm for my liking, the pillows were not firm enough, and the covers weren't heavy enough (in terms of weight, not necessarily warmth - I feel more secure sleeping under a large, weighty duvet).

Because of this, I'd prefer to avoid staying at a Marriott in the future. However, I have no idea what hotels might have beds that are more to my liking.

There are some people in the world who travel extensively and stay in all kinds of different hotels.  Perhaps some of them have found the Marriott beds similarly uncomfortable, but have also discovered a hotel whose beds are more comfortable.  Or, conversely, perhaps some of them found the Marriott beds to their liking after experiencing another hotel where they thought the mattress was not firm enough and the pillows were too firm, so I could extrapolate from that to choose the hotel whose bed they disliked.

With a critical mass of bed reviews, travellers could enter their preferred bed criteria and find the hotel that best meets them, which would certainly make everyone's travel experience more pleasant!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Warning: there's a good chance you might have to face backwards on a VIA Rail train

I recently travelled outside the GTA for the first time in years, so I decided to indulge myself by taking the train. Trains are my favourite mode of transportation for many reasons, not least of which is that, unlike cars, buses and planes, I don't get motion sick on rails.  I can read to my heart's content on a train, whereas on a road or in the air I spend the entire trip fighting off nausea.

However, on the first leg of my journey, I was surprised to discover that my seat - and many others in the train car - faced backwards.

Riding backwards makes me nauseous even on rails.  I don't think I could have even made it to the next station without vomiting. Fortunately, a staff member promptly and cheerfully switched me to a forward-facing seat.  Unfortunately, I got the last forward-facing seat, so the poor lady behind me was struggling with her own motion-sickness for the rest of the journey.

I asked if my seat on my return journey would be facing forward, and no one on the train or in the station could tell me because they don't know until the train is actually pulled up to the platform what kind of configuration it has.

Fortunately I was facing forward on the way home, but if I hadn't been I would have had to literally get off the train, eat the cost of cancelling my ticket last minute, and find another way home.  If I were to fly, at least I'd only be fighting off nausea for one hour instead of four!

VIA Rail does not yet have the ability to specify a forward-facing seat when you book, but they've assured me on Twitter that they intend to implement this functionality by the end of 2017.

I hope they do, so whenever I next have to travel I can again enjoy a nausea-free trip.  But until then, beware if, like me, you absolutely have to face forwards.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I do not recommend Calvin Klein Ultimate Sexy Sheer Thigh Highs

I recently tried a pair of Calvin Klein Ultimate Sexy Sheer Thigh High stockings, and I don't recommend them.

One stocking stayed up fine, but the other simply couldn't stand up to walking. In the time it took me to walk to the elevator and across the lobby, it had fallen down below my kneecap, and when I tried to pull it back up it immediately got a huge run.

Unlike other thigh-highs I've worn previously, these had a sort of sticky adhesive in the top in addition to the elastic to help it stay up. This adhesive was uncomfortable on my skin, and didn't even make the stockings stay up for long enough for me to get out of the building.

I don't have enough recent hosiery experience to recommend a better thigh-high, but if you're in the market for thigh-highs, try something else.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another way to improve any assisted dying legislation

A problem with attempts to legislate assisted dying is that they attempt to define in legislation what does and doesn't constitute a good enough reason to die, and thereby what does and doesn't constitute adequate quality of life. As life and death are infinite and complex, some things will almost certainly fall through the cracks.

At the same time, when legislation includes specific things that are considered acceptable reasons to want to die, some people who have those conditions or experiences but don't want to die sometimes take offence, as though society is telling them that they don't deserve to live.  And this push-back may lead legislators to be reluctant to include additional specific conditions, for fear of offending more constituents.

These problems could be mitigated with a single provision: if the patient wants to die because of the absence of a specific aspect of quality of life, and the patient does not have a reasonable chance of gaining or regaining that aspect of quality of life, the patient is permitted to die.

The advantage of this is it takes legislators out of the business of deciding what is and isn't deathworthy (or, depending on your perspective, lifeworthy). Each patient gets to set their own priorities.

In carrying this out, medical professionals should drill down and make sure they pinpoint the actual quality of life issue that's important to the patient, in case it could be addressed some other way.  For example, if a patient says "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed," what exactly is it about being paralyzed that makes them feel it's deathworthy? Are they afraid of never having sex again? Are they afraid of being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life? And are these things that actually happen if you're paralyzed, or are there workarounds that the patient doesn't know about?

If they pinpoint that what the patient actually fears is being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life, the living will would be edited from "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed" to "I want to die if I ever end up in a condition where I'm dependent on someone else to bathe me for the rest of my life," which not only addresses the actual problem, but also includes situations the patient didn't anticipate where they might end up unable to bathe themselves.  It would also tell the patient's medical team where to focus, so they can make a point of trying everything to enable the patient to bathe themselves.

In interviewing the patients to drill down and identify their actual concerns, medical professionals would need to be extremely careful not to be judgemental. They'd need to make very certain to treat every concern as completely valid, and not try to talk patients out of it or even react negatively if the concern sounds petty or shallow or superficial. I know this would be difficult for some corners of the medical profession where people see the direst aspects of the human experience every day and would feel inclined to laugh in the face of "I want to die if I can never again eat recreationally."

But if we can successfully legislate and implement a system where patients choose which aspects of quality of life they see as lifeworthy and deathworthy for themselves with the guidance and support of an empathetic and knowledgeable medical team, that will eliminate many potential problems of mislegislation.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Tales from Grade 9 group work

Grade 9 science class. I was generally uncomfortable in this class. My friends all abandoned me at the beginning of the year and I hadn't made any new friends. There wasn't even anyone in this class with whom I casually socialized. I sat alone at one of those lab tables that's intended for two people.

I was good at science, but didn't have any particular passion for it. Because I'd spent the last three years being bullied for being a trekkie, I was worried that here, in Big Scary High School, I'd be bullied for showing any aptitude towards science. But this was a required course. I had no choice. So I kept my head down, quietly did my work, and pulled in low As, making a point of not putting in enough effort or enthusiasm to get high As.

One of our assignments was that we had to dissect a fish. This worried me. I'm a naturally squeamish person. Even the smell of the stuff the fish were preserved in (formaldehyde?) turned my stomach. I tried to think of ways to get out of it, tried to figure out if I could make an argument on moral grounds (I'd recently gone vegetarian, but my shoes were still leather - you can't be picky when you wear a size 11!), but I knew I'd never have the support of my parents and I didn't want to get in trouble, or to draw attention to myself if my attempt wasn't going to be successful. So I found myself there, in the nauseatingly smelly classroom, the day the fishes were being dissected.

I was grouped up with the two boys behind me. This worried me too. I didn't know them very well, but they seemed like the kind of people who would be mean to me. They got poor marks in the class, and had that unfortunate early adolescent male "might not necessarily have bathed within the last 24 hours" look. They wore faded heavy metal t-shirts, probably smoked, and would almost certainly know how to get beer. They used swear words in casual conversation (a habit I hadn't yet picked up) and called breasts "boobies" (which was more disrespectful than I was comfortable with at the time - not to mention that they talked about breasts in class enough that I knew what they called them). It was like Wayne & Garth meet Beavis & Butthead. I was afraid not only that they might be mean to me, but that they might use the bits of dissected dead fish to torment me, putting fish eyeballs down my shirt and the like. So it was with trepidation that I turned around to their table and huddled over the dissection tray with them.

To my surprise, the boys did not hesitate to pick up the scalpel and start cutting the fish open. I'd thought I was going to have to do it myself! Bonus! So I just sat back watching the proceedings. They get the fish open, and remove something from its guts using the tweezers.

"What's this?" they wonder. It's large and lumpy, didn't seem very attached to anything, takes of most of the fishy's belly, and doesn't look like anything in the diagram.

"Eggs," I blurt out. "The stuff in the diagram is probably still in there, underneath the eggs."

They look at me, pleasantly surprised. It makes perfect sense! They open Ms. Fishy up some more, and find stuff that looks more like the diagram in the book. The more artistic of the two boys starts sketching it, and the other boy carefully, fascinatedly, does the actual dissection. My job is simply to identify the parts and their function, which I could easily do without touching or getting too close to the dead fish. Whenever I identified a part, the boys would peer at the fish, fascinated, lightbulbs going off in their heads, and Artistic Boy would add it to the drawing. Then when we were done, Artistic Boy added a sketch of the eggs to the drawing, Other Boy cleaned up all the gross dissecting stuff, and I quickly knocked off the written part of our assignment.

When we got our assignment back, we'd gotten a perfect mark, plus bonus points for identifying and dealing with the eggs without assistance from the teacher. The boys were quite impressed - they never got perfect marks! - and I was rather pleased to have gotten through the assignment without puking or getting fish eyeballs down my shirt or even having to touch a dead fish! We each came away feeling like we'd done the easy part or the fun part and the other people had done all the work, but the result was better than any of us could have achieved alone.

It would never have occurred to me that I might have something that smoking, drinking metalheads - boys who looked scarier than the boys who used to bully me - could use. And it certainly would never have occurred to me that they could have something I could use. We didn't become friends - I never saw them outside of that class, and don't even remember their names. But we were cordial neighbours who occasionally helped each other out in science class using our respective talents. While this all seems perfectly innocuous now, it was a new concept to my 14-year-old self who was still skittish from years of bullying, and it worked far better than I ever would have imagined.


This should have been revelatory. It should have led me to seek out people with complementary skill sets for group projects, even if they aren't the kind of people I would seek out as friends. It should have led me to see the value in what I can contribute and what others can contribute and how this can all be combined to make a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

But, unfortunately, soon after that came the health class project.


I forget exactly what the health class project was, but what's relevant is that it needed a written report and several medical diagrams.  I was paired with a girl who was cooler than me, whom I very much wanted to befriend. As we looked over the assignment and planned out what we needed to do, I found myself most intimidated by the diagrams. No way could I draw these complicated medical diagrams!  Fortunately, the girl I was paired with could draw, so she started by doing the diagrams while I knocked off the written part of the report.  I'd done about 12 pages of writing to her 3 pages of drawing, but it took us the same amount of time and we each felt that we'd done the easy part.

Unfortunately, the way the health teacher marked group projects was by asking the group members how much they'd each done, and distributing marks accordingly.  And because my work took up so many more pages than hers, I got a better mark.

My 14-year-old self wasn't assertive enough to argue the point to the teacher, pointing out that we'd spent the same amount of time and that my classmate had made the invaluable contribution of doing the work that I was terrible at.  So I walked away with the higher mark and she walked away with the lower mark.

We never became friends. (I just googled her, and she's even cooler now.)  And my nascent inspiration to seek out complementary skill sets for group work were was squelched for the rest of my academic career.