Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Books read in January 2017


1. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
2. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
3. A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh
4. The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
5. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and David Shannon 
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin 
7. Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence


1. Witness in Death
2. Judgment in Death
3. Betrayal in Death
4. Interlude in Death
5. Seduction in Death

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How do people on the wrong side of the confidence gap perceive other people's abilities?

I blogged before about the notion of the confidence gap, where some people are loudly overconfident about their own abilities.

I wonder how these people who overestimate their own competence assess other people's abilities? ("Competence" is actually a better word than "abilities" for what I'm trying to express here, but the post rapidly became ridiculous with the conflation of the similar-looking and -sounding words "confidence" and " competence")

To make it easier to give examples, let's pretend that abilities can be measured in Ability Points.  Does a person who actually has 50 Ability Points but is overconfident enough to think they have 70 Ability Points perceive someone with 60 Ability Points as more competent or less competent?

Or do they equate loud overconfidence with ability, and so can't recognize that the quietly-competent person in the corner easily has at least 100 Ability Points, but the loudmouth down the hall only has 40 Ability Points on a good day?

I suppose you could also look at this from the other side: how do people with imposter syndrome perceive other people's abilities?

I can't tell you for certain that I underestimate my abilities, but both anecdotal evidence and other people's comments to my younger self suggest that I have done so in the past. (I'm too close to the present to accurately assess it.)  And during that time, I simply assumed that other people had the level of awesomeness that I myself felt subpar for lacking.  For example, I thought I had 50 Ability Points, and assumed that others had 100 Ability Points, when in fact they were within 10 Ability Points of me. (I'm too close to the situation to tell you objectively if that meant we both had ~50 Ability Points or ~100 Ability Points or some vastly different number.)

But that's when comparing myself to other translators in the realm of translation.  In other areas of life where I very clearly don't have particular expertise, if someone who is supposed to have particular expertise doesn't appear to be vastly better than I am in a way I can clearly perceive, I feel betrayed. If I'm right about something and my doctor or lawyer or realtor is wrong, I don't feel I can trust them. I have no idea if this is representative or just one of my personal neuroses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to the bringing kids to demonstrations dilemma

I've always had mixed feelings about bringing children too young to develop an independent opinion on the issues to political demonstrations.

On one hand, bringing your kid to a demonstration is modelling political participation, just like bringing your kid with you to vote. And a demonstration is also a part of regular life, like taking your kid with you grocery shopping.

But, on the other hand, participating in a demonstration (especially if you're holding a sign, chanting the chants, etc.) implies having a certain opinion on a certain issue, and some kids are simply too young to have developed an opinion.

On top of that, children tend to make for good pictures, so there's a high likelihood that kids at demonstrations will end up with a photo of them on the internet holding a sign that may or may not reflect the opinion they develop independently once they become savvy enough to do so.

So far, the best idea I've been able to think of is that kids at demonstrations shouldn't be photographed, which helps contain the issue but doesn't completely address it. (Although I have no objection to any policy that protects kids - or people of any age, really - from having their pictures posted on the internet without their informed consent.)

But the other day, my Twitter feed gave me a much better idea:

Kids participating in demonstrations must write their own signs, without any adult input about content or messaging. 

I'll allow adults transcribing the kid's message (only at the kid's request) if the kid's printing and spelling skills haven't caught up with what they want their sign to say, but the content of the sign must be entirely the kid's idea, and the kid must be permitted to use their own sign regardless of whether it's consistent with the demonstration's messaging.

Here are two delightful examples of this phenomenon that were tweeted into my feed. They can also been seen on imgur here and here.

As you can see, the kids are clearly expressing their own ideas rather than mindlessly regurgitating what the adults around them are saying. But they still get to proudly participate in the social and cultural experience of a demonstration, even if they don't have independent understanding of the issues, without expressing any ideas that they wouldn't if they had independent understanding of the issues. And, despite the fact that they're off-message, they don't take away from the message of the demonstration, and, in fact, add to its credibility by making it look like an inclusive family event.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things They Should Invent: bottled flat ginger ale

A common home remedy for an upset stomach or nausea is to drink flat ginger ale.

This is less easy than it could be, because ginger ale only comes carbonated, so you have to open it and pour it out and wait for it to go flat.

Solution: sell ginger ale that's already flat. If ginger ale can't be manufactured without first making it carbonated, then they should let it go flat before bottling it, and bottle it like water or juice or similar flat beverages.

The market for this: airlines (and, perhaps, other modes of transportation that provide food service and where people might get motion sick, like trains where you might have to sit backwards). Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to offer one of the standard home remedies for motion sickness in your standard drink selection?

Some parts of the internet suggest that flat ginger ale doesn't actually help with motion sickness, but I'm not sure that that matters. Other parts of the internet are convinced that it's panacea, so the demand does exist.  And if you're stuck in a plane for hours and fighting off airsickness with nothing but a basic drink selection to help you, wouldn't you choose the common home remedy just in case it helps? Even if it's a placebo effect, it might still bring relief, or, at a minimum, the comfort of feeling like you're doing something for your motion sickness. And if it does in fact work for some people, even if just as a placebo, all the better!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Things people say

People (specifically Canadian Anglophones) are often surprised that I learned French in regular public school (as opposed to going to French immersion or growing up in a household where French was spoken) and went on to have a career where I use French every day.  It's like they see it as impossible to learn French in school.

In my previous job in tech support, people (specifically non-techy end-users) were surprised that I didn't study computers in school, and instead picked up what I needed from personal use or everyday life or people around me or the internet. It's like they see it as impossible to learn computers without doing so in school.


I'm not very good at convincing or persuading people.  But when I say that out loud, people say to me "Don't be silly, of course you are!"

Even though I have literally just failed to convince/persuade them that I'm not very good at convincing/persuading people.


I've noticed a significant overlap between people who react to the fact that I've bought a condo as though it's exciting and people who believe that money can't buy happiness.

If you think it can't buy happiness, why do you think it's exciting?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Did you need an invitation to join the French Resistence?

This idea occurred to me when thinking about the French Resistance during World War II (at least as portrayed in fiction), but I'd imagine it would apply to a wide range of resistance movements past, present and future.

A movement resisting tyranny wouldn't be able to recruit openly, because the very tyranny you're resisting would use this to identify who and where you are and eliminate you.

This would mean that if you want to join the resistance, you'd need to be invited, or know someone, or know someone who knows someone.

Which means that there might be perfectly competent - and perhaps even highly useful - people who want to participate in the resistance but can't join because they don't have the right connections, or because the resistance doesn't know about them.

And when there are highly competent (or highly enthusiastic) who want to join the resistance but can't get an in, they might start their own resistance. (Especially if the resistance that they can't get an in to join is particularly good at its secrecy - the would-be resistance members might not even know that it even exists.)

I wonder if there were ever multiple and competing resistance movements? (Like this scene in Life of Brian

I wonder if tyrants were ever able to play one resistance movement off another?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

What if there are perfectly unremarkable sexual proclivities that no human has ever had?

Humanity collectively has a mind-blowing range of sexual proclivities, so I've always operated under the assumption that every imaginable proclivity or variation must exist within the full scope of human experience.

But what if some things that we would expect to exist don't and never have? And what if some of the proclivities that have never existed are really unremarkable or benign compared to other proclivities that do exist?

For example, what if no one in human history has ever been turned on by the idea of their partner wearing a hat during sex?  What if no one has ever gotten off on having the back of their knees licked? Not these specific examples per se (I thought of them, so they probably aren't good examples of things no one has ever thought of), but what if there are things that are comparably unremarkable but no one in human history has ever found them sexy?  Even though there are people who get off on the idea of being eaten alive (Savage Love column, no graphic images but textual content NSFW).

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Things They Should Invent: put buildings on the internet before they tear them down

In my neighbourhood, there's a group of row houses that's going to be torn down for condos, and I'm extremely curious about what they look like inside - so much so that I've even pondered attempting to break in engage in some urban exploration, which isn't something I've even considered before.

The reason why I'm curious about these houses as opposed the many other buildings that are being torn down for condos is that I can't figure out their history just by looking at them from the outside. I'm not savvy enough about architecture to tell when they were built. I can't tell if they're single family homes or apartments. I can't tell if they're middle-class or working-class. I can't tell if they're middle-class single-family homes that latter got subdivided into working-class apartments. They clearly have a story, and I can't even begin to speculate what that story is.

Every building that is torn down has a story, and you never know when or to whom that story will be of interest.  So to preserve our stories, they should document buildings before they tear them down, and post all the information on the internet.

On a single comprehensive website, interior and exterior photos, floor plans, and all known history should be posted for every building that is torn down.  Maybe the public could also add to it, so someone idly googling their grandparents' old house could come along and add the interesting factoid "My grandparents bought this house for $10,000 in 1952 and raised four children here on a steelworker's salary."

I'm not a person who objects to development (as evidenced by the fact that I keep insisting on living in new buildings), but there's no reason why the stories of what was here before should be lost in an era when everything can be so easily archived and indexed.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Girl colours and boy colours

I currently have four baby cousins: three boys and one girl. (They aren't all so much babies - the oldest one is 3 - but old nomenclature dies hard.  And it's not like they can read this blog to complain that I'm referring to them as babies.) I bought xmas gifts for all of them (I don't celebrate xmas myself, but my family does and it's an awesome excuse to look through all the adorable children's books at Mabel's Fables), and since all the gifts would be going under the same tree I put gift tags on them.

I managed to find a package of non-xmas-themed gift tags in all different colours, one of which is pink.  So I put the pink tag on the girl's gift.  Because pink is for girls.

Of course, I myself don't actually think pink is exclusively for girls and not for boys at all.  If any of my male baby cousins expressed interest in pink things or things that are culturally marked as for girls, I'd be the first to make sure he had all the girly things he wanted. 

But, because on a broader cultural level pink has connotations as "for girls", some boys might not like it.  Some boys might find it insulting to be given the pink thing. It might be problematic to give one brother pink and the other brother a colour without gender connotations. (The inverse is true too - I remember once feeling very humiliated and insecure in my femininity when my sister got a Judy Jetson toy and I was given smelly old George Jetson.)

If I had multiple pink tags, I wouldn't hesitate to give every child a pink tag. But I only had the one, and I only ever use gift tags for the baby cousins, so the one pink gift tag went to the one girl.

And so, out of consideration for connotations that these small children may or may not have yet picked up from the prevailing culture, gender stereotypes of colours are perpetuated for another generation.


Another similar issue is that I'm very mindful of making sure the boys get books with male protagonists (insofar as the books have protagonists and the protagonists have gender - with children this young, sometimes the books are about animals or shapes or colours, and sometimes they don't have enough of a plot to have a protagonist), but I don't put the same thought into making sure the girl gets books with female protagonists.  This is because I have the idea, absorbed from the ether, that boy are more likely to be reluctant readers, and that boys are more likely to be disinclined to read books with female protagonists. 

In real life, none of these kids are reluctant readers, simply because they're too young for anyone to make that determination.  In real life, I'm not even sure to what extent children that age do or don't perceive gender.  But, nevertheless, I've decided to pre-emptively address this Thing That People On The Internet Say Might Happen, and, as a result, might be perpetuating the stereotype that books about girls aren't for boys.

Part of it is the fact that I can testify from my own first-hand experience that even a girly girl whose gender identity and expression is wholly feminine can totally enjoy books about a male protagonist, and therefore would feel confident in getting a girl a book with a male protagonist.  But I have heard anecdotes of boys being disinclined to read female protagonists, and I only have a self righteous "Well, it shouldn't make any difference!" to counter that.  (I don't actually know whether my male baby cousins as individuals care about the genders of their protagonists - I'm never able to have as comprehensive a conversation with their parents as I'd like because we keep getting interrupted by the presence of babies and toddlers.)

But ultimately, I think it's more important (in terms of both gift-giving and child development) to maximize the likelihood that the kidlets will enjoy the books put in front of them. And so I resort to gender stereotypes unless I have further specific information.

I kind of wish I could switch off that portion of my knowledge of self and culture, and choose books cheerfully unaware of what gender (and other) stereotypes might exist and need to be addressed.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

"Excuse me, are you Jewish?"

For several years now, there have been young men (they appear to be Orthodox Jewish students to my semi-informed eyes) who stand around on the corner of Yonge and Eglinton and ask passers-by "Excuse me, are you Jewish?"

While I'm flattered to pass for potentially-Jewish, the fact of the matter is I'm not at all, so I've always just said "No, sorry" and left them to their business.

But I've always been super curious: what happens if you are Jewish?

So this year I decided to ask one of them. When he asked me "Excuse me, are you Jewish?" I replied "No, but I'm super curious what would happen if I said yes!"

"We give you a free menorah if you don't have one already," he replied.

So there you go!  Free menorahs!

I'm not knowledgeable enough of the nuances of Judaism to be able to speculate whether the free menorah comes with evangelistic strings attached.  (I don't even know if Judaism has evangelism, but, coming from a Christian background, that's what my concern would be if they belonged to some Christian denomination and were giving out, like, free Advent wreaths or something). But that's a mystery solved!