Friday, March 31, 2017

Books read in March 2017


1. We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
3. Northern Lights against POPs: Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic edited by David Leonard Downie and Terry Fenge
4. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
5. Wenjack by Joseph Boyden


1. Portrait in Death

Things They Should Invent: outlaw commission

Originally I was writing a blog post about how commission-based compensation for various professionals involved in real estate transactions is a problem - it disincentivizes taking on first-time buyers of primary residences as clients (because we have less money to spend and need more hand-holding) and incentivizes taking on investors as clients (they have more money to spend, have less at stake because they don't actually live in the property, and are more likely to buy again soon). I was writing some half-formed ideas about whether this commission model might be encouraging sales to non-resident investors at the expense of regular people just trying to buy a home, especially first-time buyers.

But as I was writing this, I realized the problem is not limited to commission on real estate transactions.  The problem is commission on all sales.

I propose that it should be banned, and salespeople should be paid a salary instead (possibly with bonuses for excellent customer service.)

I'm not saying this from my point of view as a worker. (Although it certainly is a labour issue too!)  I'm saying this from my point of view as a consumer.

Even moderately experienced salespeople know far more about their products than I do. They know stuff like "If you can squeeze into a 10.5 in the Operetta shoe family but would prefer 11, then you're a 12 in the Miracles shoe family." or "If your primary motivation in looking at this $700 phone is that it has more storage, you should be aware that that $300 phone can accommodate an SD card."

But because they're incentivized to sell more rather than to provide excellent customer service, they might not want to share this expertise with us, and we might not know if we can trust the expertise they do share.

If salespeople weren't incentivized to sell more and instead were incentivized to best meet the customer's needs, then products that actually meet people's needs would sell better. Demand for products that meet needs would increase, demand for products that don't meet needs would decline, and the overall offer of products on the market would improve.

As consumers grow more confident that products they buy will meet their needs, they will grow less reluctant to shop. (I would buy so many more clothes if I knew they would work, and didn't have to keep trying on things that didn't work!) Insofar as there is disposable income, people will be happy to spend it. This will boost the economy, and make the market function more optimally.

If you ever buy things, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you want eliminate any consumer reluctance to shop, you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you want the market to function as it should, with demand for things that meet consumer needs and no demand for things that don't, then you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you're a company that produces excellent products and want your excellent products to outsell less-excellent products, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you're a salesperson who truly wants to use your expertise to help guide people to the right product for them and enjoy return business from happy customers, you would benefit from the elimination of commission.

Basically, unless your primary objective is to cheat, coerce and manipulate people into buying things they don't need, you would do better without commission.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The notion of prayer is weird

Within a paradigm where there is a deity who is capable of answering your prayers but does not always choose to do so, the very notion of praying doesn't make sense.

A deity, being omniscient, would already know what you want, and how badly you want it, and the arguments for giving it to you, regardless of whether you go through the motions of praying. The only scenario in which praying would make a difference is if the deity is not just, and is so insecure in its own divinity that it wants its ego stroked by people getting down on their knees and begging. But shouldn't any remotely competent deity be above that sort of thing?


As I was writing this, I found myself wondering if there's some correlation between capacity for religion and capacity for emotional labour.  Religion (or, at least, the subset of religion to which I have been exposed) requires not just having certain feelings, but  performing those feelings, often publicly. (Or, if not truly publicly, then at least so it can be seen by your family or your religious community or your religious leadership.)  I wonder if being able to and willing to do that that might correlate with being able to and willing to perform emotional labour?

I don't think it would be outright cause and effect (in my case, I have far more desire to perform emotional labour than to perform religion, but far less ability), but nevertheless I do wonder if it correlates.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Warning: Charmin Essentials Soft toilet paper is NOT the same as Charmin Ultra Soft

I have brand loyalty to Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper.  It is the most comfortable toilet paper I have ever experienced, so I use it all the time as a small daily luxury.

Last time I went shopping for new toilet paper, I saw this package with the great big word SOFT, so I figured it's my usual Charmin and they've changed the package as they do from time to time:

However, once I got it home, I quickly realized it isn't anywhere near the same toilet paper - it feels like sandpaper on my pampered anatomy!

It turns out Charmin Essential Soft is a rebranding of Charmin Basic - the less comfy discount brand!

Charmin Ultra Soft is still called Ultra Soft, and its packaging looks like this:

So if you're picky like me, don't be fooled by the word "soft"; the word "ultra" is important.

Mnemonic: yellow packaging = yellow flag

Saturday, March 04, 2017

What I didn't expect about living in a concierge building (#FirstWorldProblems)

I knew that one of the services a concierge provides is that if you receive a package when you're not home, the concierge will sign for the package for you.

What I didn't know is that even if you are home, the delivery person will still leave the package with the concierge.

I guess it makes sense from the delivery person's point of view - I'm sure they're on a schedule and otherwise evaluated for speed and efficiency, and they'd much rather just dump everything at the concierge desk than buzz or knock on the door of each apartment that has a package on the off chance that someone is home in the middle of the day. And I'm sure that if I asked my concierge to send a particular delivery person up to my apartment (for example, because the package is large and unwieldy) they'd do so.

It just never occurred to me that living in a concierge building would put an extra step between me and my deliveries.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"It doesn't matter as long as people can understand you"

There are people who say that it shouldn't matter whether something is written properly as long as the audience understands it.

I've heard this said about things that aren't "correct" English per the prescriptivist definition (like "ain't"), and about spelling and grammar errors, as well as things like slang and txtspeak, which aren't the focus of today's post.

I have also found myself in situations where these things make it difficult for me to understand the text. For example, if the "incorrect" English or spelling or grammar error shifts meaning, I interpret the text literally, not realizing that the person meant something else.

And sometimes in these situations where I'm having trouble understanding because I interpreted an erroneous text literally, I'm accused of being pedantic, as though I'm not understanding on purpose as a judgement of their poor writing skills, with tone and delivery hinting that I should stop being difficult and just get along and understand it like a regular person.

This makes me wonder: do people whose English skills lead to spelling/grammar/usage errors that shift meaning find it easier to understand other people with similar English skills?  Do they not see the shift in meaning, or somehow instantly see what was intended?

(In this post so far, I'm talking about people whose first language is English, although it could certainly also happen with people whose first language is not English.)

One thing I've learned in my translation career is that Anglophones and Francophones make different kinds of mistakes in French.  An Anglophone who learned French in school wouldn't confuse manger (to eat) and mangĂ© (eaten), or ses (his/her where the noun is plural) and ces (these) on the grounds that they're completely different parts of speech, but these are among the most common mistakes Francophones make on the grounds that they're homophones.  (I was so proud of myself the day I almost sent out an email in French with an infinitive where a past participle should have been! Finally thinking in French!) 

Meanwhile, a Francophone would never say il faut que je vais (indicative , where the subjunctive il faut que j'aille is correct), but this is one of the most common mistakes Anglophones make because subjunctive isn't as intuitive for us.

A French text written by an Anglophone with poor French skills is very easy for me to understand. A French text written by a Francophone with poor French skills is perilously close to impenetrable for me.

I wonder if the same phenomenon occurs with texts written by people with similar skill levels in English, even if English is their first language. Do people who are prone to make errors in English understand error-prone English better than people who have a better handle on spelling and grammar?  If so, I wonder if they can understand error-prone English better than error-free English?

(Aside: I'm quite sure the gods of irony will have inserted a few errors of the sort that I don't usually make into this blog post.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

How Reitman's lost my loyalty and broke my heart

I have had brand loyalty to Reitmans for my entire adult life, ever since I discovered their Comfort Fit pants.  These are these only pants in the world that don't gap in the back when I sit down, which is particularly important because I have a desk job.

There were also Comfort Fit jeans, and they were a revelation!  The dark wash boot cut style not only fit comfortably, but was perhaps the single most flattering garment I've ever owned.  I look tall and toned and fierce wearing them, and feel bad-ass walking down the street!  In recent years they've been using a lower-quality denim that wears out faster (and, inconveniently, seems to wear out in the crotch first), but no biggie, I can just pop in and buy another pair of the same.

But this time, I couldn't.

There are zero boot cut comfort fit jeans, and zero dark wash.  There was a straight leg style, but it wasn't a true straight leg - the ankle was skinny and I could barely get my feet through. They looked exactly like the hideous cheap fake jeans from Biway that the kids on welfare wore in my preteen years.

Which means there are now zero jeans in the world that will fit me comfortably and make me feel good about myself.  And my old ones got a hole in the crotch, so now I don't even have the option of wearing jeans.  At all.  Ever.  An entire baseline category of clothing is unavailable to me.


This has been happening to me more and more often. Clothes that make me feel good about myself are taken away, and no workable replacement manifests itself. Victoria's Secret changed my underwear, and I still haven't found an alternative that's as good. Smart Set made shirts that were flattering to me, then they closed down. I normally adore Fluevog shoes, but everything this year has pointy toes and I don't think my black ankle boots are going to hold out long enough for their silhouette to evolve again. Lord and Taylor made cashmere gloves that actually fit me (even though they were a bit too delicate and I only got a year's wear out of them), but then this year they didn't make them any more.

Despite my best efforts to take care of my clothes (even my mother thinks the extent of my air-drying is ridiculous!), they're wearing out.  And I'm afraid once I lose the clothes that make me feel good about myself, I'll never be able to find a replacement and I'll never feel pretty again.