Thursday, June 28, 2012

Left wing right wing game

I have a game I like to play with news stories.  After reading the main article about a particular topic I try to guess what the extremist lunatics are going to say about it in the comments or on other forums and then see if I guessed correctly or not.  It turns out that you can pretty easily predict what the talking points of both left and right wing crazies are going to be for most topics; sometimes you get surprised though.  Clearly there are lots of topics where this is a pretty trivial game like anytime abortion is involved (Save the babies / Give women control over their bodies) or whenever a rich person successfully screws over the populace and makes off with a fortune (The possibility of a big score makes people work harder / wealth imbalance makes society worse for everyone).

Some topics are pretty hard to predict though.  Recently I read a bit about the debate over bicycle helmets in British Columbia which referenced European bicycle safety information and wasn't sure what to predict.  On one hand it is normally the left wing folks advocating for things like bicycle helmet laws while ring wingers want those who refuse to use helmets to suffer the natural consequences of doing so.  This time though there is a substantial wrinkle in that bicycle helmet laws are known to drastically reduce the amount of bicycling that people do; this means that in order to achieve the maximum amount of health benefits we should logically not have helmet laws.  Getting more people bicycling improves overall health and makes roads safer for all cyclists (drivers get used to dealing with cyclists if there are more of them) so the best route from a pure health optimization perspective is to let people go without helmets and just accept that some of them die from doing so.

So what do the pundits have to say?  Make your guess before you read!

It turns out that the right wingers mostly want bicycle helmet laws in place so that they won't have to pay for others' health care; if the laws are repealed they want the government to not cover head injuries during bicycling!  The radical left side wants to repeal bicycle safety advertising and education because it suggests that bicycling isn't safe; if we just get everyone riding a bike and ignore safety training and gear things we will have an environmental utopia!

The strange thing is that I find these opinions are consistent.  I often have absolutely no idea what people will say but once I start reading the same opinions crop up over and over and there seems to be almost a consensus on what crazy platform people will agree on.  I don't know if this consensus appears because people just repeat what others have already said or because there really is a predictable response and I just can't predict it.  Either way, the left wing / right wing game is a lot of fun for anyone who finds reading the opinions of crazy people on the internet fun.  I tend to think we should have mandatory helmet laws for kids and not for adults - getting a lot of people cycling is a really useful goal but children are a lot more likely to fall and are less able to judge the dangers of various situations by themselves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Elli graduated from kindergarten today.  There was a big ceremony with the kids singing half a dozen songs, a parade of kids going across the stage to receive their graduation papers and then cake and photo ops.  Most of the parents there seemed super excited and took dozens of photographs while complimenting their children extravagantly on their achievement.  I don't get it.  I am well established as a curmudgeon when it comes to things like this so my disdain is not going to surprise anyone I expect.  Nonetheless I still find myself surprised when people make such a big deal about graduating kindergarten.  For one, nobody can fail to graduate kindergarten no matter what they do so it isn't something that is any sort of achievement.  For two, I think that Stoic philosophy is really key here - don't focus on achievements that are based on luck or other people's input but rather focus on personal effort and commitment.

People often repeat the old saying "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game" to their children but they don't seem to follow that advice themselves.  They make a giant fuss at things like championship games, promotions, and graduation ceremonies instead of at the small times when children work hard or make a personal breakthrough.  When you focus attention on achievements that are based on luck you give the impression that the important thing is to be lucky rather than good.  It is far better to celebrate effort over achievement both in terms of personal happiness and societal good:  Effort is something we can all put in if we want to so framing out happiness and rewards in terms of effort allows us to feel in control of our happiness and our lives.  I am sure we would all be much happier if the people around us focused on effort rather than victory too, just as we urge our children to do in the old saying.

I am proud when Elli learns a new thing or works hard to create something and I love the joy she gets from those difficult creative experiences.  I don't give two hoots about whether or not anybody else thinks what she has accomplished is worthy or not though and I won't tie my respect for her to arbitrary standards imposed from outside.  I was busy figuring this out during my younger years and always my issue was not being able to do the school work but rather caring enough about it to bother.  I wonder if I will be an easy or hard parent to please... on one hand Elli doesn't have to win anything to get my attention but on the other hand she does actually have to try.

The Stoics advise you to be the best you can be and the trophies will take care of themselves.  I can't help but think they are right.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why we are in debt

I am making a real effort to teach Elli about money even though she is only five.  I think having a sense of budgeting, holding off on purchases, and saving up for things are extremely valuable throughout life and I am attempting (with mixed success, admittedly) to impart these lessons by giving her a small allowance.  I figured that there would be some trouble with Elli not accepting the limitations of her piggy bank balance but I never anticipated other adults being so uncomfortable with it.

This weekend Elli and I were in the grocery store and she wanted to buy a R2D2 Pez dispenser.  She has plenty of candy in her treat bag and nobody in the world 'needs' such a chunk of rubbish so I certainly had no intention of buying it for her.  I gave her the usual speech about how she had a few dollars in her piggy bank and the toy cost three dollars so she could afford it if she really wanted it.  I asked her to think about it and decide if this was something she really wanted or if she wanted to save up to buy something else.  She eagerly decided to buy the toy for herself but before it was our turn to pay an older lady in the line asked if she could pay for it instead.  Strangely she simply gave Elli a five dollar bill and told her to keep the change...  I don't know what to make of that.

I could, of course, just be pleased that Elli was getting the toy she wanted and that I didn't have to foot the bill but I was actually irritated because the entire point of that exercise was to teach her about money and thinking about value.  The plastic hunk of junk will be forgotten in a day or two but the lesson could contribute towards a lifetime of not getting in debt foolishly like so many Canadians seem desperate to do these days.  I didn't want to refuse the offer because graciously accepting gifts is another useful habit to have and I don't want to come off as just being mean to her either.

The strange thing is that this isn't an isolated incident.  When I wind up my 'well, you can buy this, it will cost X and you have Y in your piggy bank, are you sure?' speech adults seem to consistently leap in with money in hand to try to prevent Elli having to actually make a decision and live with the consequences.  I don't know if they are thinking that I am so poor I can't buy a two dollar thingamajigger for Elli or if I am just being a jerk; all I know is that they listen to the money speech and simply can't tolerate it.

Five year olds are *built* for making mistakes.  Their passions are momentary, their memories short, and their ability to actually cause themselves long term harm with foolish decisions is nonexistent.  They need to make those mistakes, lots of them, and gradually come to an understanding of the consequences of decisions so they can make good ones when it counts.  They need to buy junk, have it break, and realize that buying quality is useful.  They need to run out of money and notice that not saving money for later is a disaster.  They need to learn these lessons before they take out a credit card and join the rest of society in having an ever increasing debt to income ratio.  What they *don't* need is another piece of sparkly junk bought for them by an adult who can't abide the concept of delaying gratification.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I try not to make my blog posts merely a reposting of a single link.  Generally I attempt to deliver my own little bit of insight or interest in addition to the simple regurgitation of an URL.  Not this time.

I laughed a lot.  Also, what was Vork from The Guild doing in that video at all?  I don't understand... but it was extremely funny anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Destined to fail

Diablo 3 came out last month and I have been playing a lot since then.  I anticipated this game far more than any other game I have ever played and I was not alone in doing so.  Diablo 2 was a enormously popular game and uncountable legions throughout the world were salivating at the thought of getting to play the newest edition.  It hasn't lived up to the hype.

Of course, it couldn't.

My memories of Diablo 2 are intertwined with living in a house with 7 friends and hanging out haggling for computer time, arguing about builds and numbers, and generally enjoying being a geek in a place full of geeks.  No matter what Diablo 3 was it could never have recreated those memories, especially since those memories are old enough that mostly what remains is a soft glow of good times and very little hard information.

Intellectually I told myself and everyone else that the game could not live up to the hype and anticipation because I *knew* all these things ahead of time.  Despite that logical foundation I still harboured hopes of recapturing those feelings from times long ago and a tiny, primitive part of my brain believed that just by paying $59.99 I could relive the times of my youth.  Not so much.  It turns out that the game is good, and fun, and that it is utterly incapable of simulating a houseful of energetic geeks who are my friends.  To usefully simulate those geeks I need real geeks and pretty much any game at all for us to play and argue about - it is entirely the geeks that are important, not the game.

Being a clever sort of person and knowing a fair bit about psychology really doesn't do much at all for making one immune to these sorts of delusions.  Just as doctors are still subject to the placebo effect and therapists cannot give themselves therapy armchair psychologists like myself are still fooled by all kinds of mental tricks that in theory we are well prepared for.  I need to put some effort into getting geeks into my house to play some games rather than simply waiting for the games themselves to do it for me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

O Canada

Today I dropped Elli off at school and began wandering towards home.  As I left her classroom the opening chords of O Canada started playing and I had the choice of either standing in the hallway respectfully or continuing on my way home.  Normally when I am walking with Elli in the school I stop for O Canada but this time I didn't bother and moved a little quicker to get out of the school.  I shouldn't, of course, be worried about any consequences for this little bit of rebellion but nonetheless I couldn't help but look into classrooms to see if people were watching me disrespect my nation's anthem.  A hint of nervousness preyed on the edge of my mind telling me that I ought to feel guilty.  I got downstairs and found a couple of parents with their children standing still and faced the dilemma of either jetting past them, continuing my sacrilege, or stopping right there and demonstrating that I will respect the song... when somebody is watching.  I would rather be a troublemaker than a hypocrite though so onward I went leaving the obedient folks at their posts.

It all feels a bit ridiculous.  I am an adult.  There is no reason whatever that I should be worried about being caught walking during O Canada and yet my brain constantly informs me in dire, conspiratorial whispers that I am doing SOMETHING BAD and I will get caught and DIRE CONSEQUENCES will ensue.  I stop for O Canada when I have Elli in tow because I know she is well trained to respect the song and I don't want to cause trouble for her teachers; I try to present the front of obeying the rules as much as possible for their sake.  I do have reasons for disliking O Canada:  It references sons without mentioning daughters and has a plea to God, which might not seem like much but the song only has 7 lines!

I am really not much for patriotism in general.  Nonetheless O Canada does have some emotional impact on me when I hear it; despite my dislike of the lyrics something very powerful within me recognizes that tune and associates it with home and security in a powerful way.  It is a bizarre sort of thing to fight with myself about whether or not to respect a song that affects me so while offending me at the same time.  These are the sorts of conversations I really look forward to having with Elli though because so many of the people in her life try to teach her the right way to do things instead of teaching her that life is complicated and that she is going to have to think for herself.  School lessons are very black and white most of the time and talking about the choice to respect the national anthem is something that is not so clear cut; just like most of the really hard decisions in life there are good arguments on both sides.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Selling books

This past weekend Elli's school had their annual Fun Fair.  The Fun Fair is an event that has a lot of traditional carnival type elements and is used as a massive fundraiser for the school.  I volunteered for it last year and again this year; this time my duty was to display books that people had donated to the school and sell them to people passing by.  I was completely floored by the utter rubbish that people donated in the guise of 'helping out' like instruction manuals for food processors built in 1978 (which came with a couple recipes!), ripped editions of People magazine from ten years ago and gigantic tomes containing nothing but Prince Charles and Lady Diana photos and information from their wedding.  The is a pro tip for those who overvalue their own possessions:  Your crap that you haven't looked at in three decades isn't a wonderful collector's item.  It is crap and should be recycled or tossed as such and not inflicted on hapless volunteers who then have to cart it about before donating it to *other* hapless volunteers at other charities.

There were of course a good number of decent books donated and about 1/3 of the total pile got sold for the low low price of one dollar each.  It was easy to predict which books would sell!  I actually liked doing the book selling gig and although it wasn't exactly exciting it was kind of fun to sort through the piles of books to attempt to put the good stuff out front so that we could actually get it sold.  There were lots of interesting finds amongst all the random clutter and I got to spend some of the day reading excerpts from books I otherwise would never have touched.  We did encounter a problem as the day went on though which was primarily an issue of a lack of sales training.

Back when I sold things for a living we were regularly told that any hack could drop the price on something until somebody bought but real salespeople built up the value of the product instead through information, correct product choice, and occasional exaggeration.  You could drop the price when needed, of course, but often when someone chose not to buy it simply was not a price objection.  Sometimes the product was not what they needed, sometimes they were unsure of policies, sometimes they needed to consult with somebody else.  It was very important both from the salesperson's viewpoint and the customer's viewpoint to actually figure out *why* the customer was not buying.

In the case of the book sale we began by selling books for a dollar but some volunteers changed partway through to giving away books and asking for any donation at all.  I found this strange and troubling because we had signs all over trumpeting the one dollar per book price and customers were very confused.  We even ended up with several very angry people who were getting different stories from different volunteers; they would have been fine with donating or buying at a fixed price but the inconsistency bothered them.  The trouble was that people weren't avoiding buying books because of the cost.  Lowering the price wasn't going to produce more sales!  If someone doesn't buy a book for a dollar they just aren't interested in the book and changing prices only makes people feel confused or taken advantage of.

People like helping the local school and they like a bargain.  What they really hate is feeling like other people got a better deal than they did or that if they had just talked to a different person or come at a different time that the price would have been different.  One of the worst things we can do for the longterm success of the school and the fundraiser is make people go away feeling like they got scammed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Life is good in 2012

Today I had the experience of sitting in a ultrasound clinic chair with a sick kid in my lap for a couple of hours.  Initially I was running a loop of boredom and frustration in my head and complaining about how annoying this was internally but after a bit I realized what a whiner I was being.  Elli has been very sick regularly these past couple months and though every time she is sick a course of antibiotics gets her back on track very quickly the illness returns a couple of weeks later.  Our doctor is baffled and we are delving deeper into the medical system trying to find a real fix for her problems.

My epiphany occurred as I imagined what my situation would have been like even 100 years ago.  Elli might well already be dead from the infections she has been suffering from and at the very best she would be desperately ill and unable to have much of a life.  My options for healing her would have been to beg for intercession from an imaginary friend, consult some snake oil salesman or take her to a doctor who would at best be unable to help and at worst would do something to make the situation worse.  Given that it is pretty ridiculous to complain that I have to sit in a pretty comfy chair doing nothing for a few hours so that my daughter can get amazingly fast and effective (not to mention free) health care.

There are plenty of annoyances in modern life and some things about living in the 21st century aren't perfect but we really should keep our perspective and be grateful for simple things like antibiotics, clean water, and decent sanitation.  We complain a lot about the various indignities we have to suffer but take away any of those three things, or indeed any number of other necessities, and suddenly the pettiness of much of our complaints is obvious.  It is hard to keep that perspective day to day though; we are built to compare everything to what we are used to and not any sort of historical standard.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bad people don't have kids

I read the rational optimist blog and most of the time I agree with the blogger in question.  He is an atheist who shares a lot of my views on religion and freedom - he seems like a real libertarian who votes Republican because he really believes in self reliance and small government rather than big government that supports corporations, Christian bigotry, and the military (which is the usual Republican stance).  I don't agree with many of his political posts though and this one about the EU crisis is no exception.  In particular he espouses a viewpoint I really cannot tolerate:  Having children is equatable to moral behaviour and sensibility.  He criticizes the EU for not having enough children to support them in their time of crisis while managing to ignore the fact that the US does exactly the same thing.  Both areas have birth rates far below replacement and both rely on massive immigration to support their aging populations.  He thinks the Europeans should have sex more as some kind of antidote to financial problems.

The idea that having children is a noble and inherently worthwhile thing to do is pretty well entrenched in our culture.  I think that this sort of thinking is pretty necessary if you want an advanced nation to actually have a birthrate anywhere close to replacement since an awful lot of people really would prefer to continue to live life without the constraints of children.  Children have their own benefits, of course, but they have enormous costs too and many people will be happier without.  The world has no shortage of young people interested in moving to a rich nation to work at the moment and quite frankly the only way we are going to get our population lower is to go through a time when babies are scarce; the idea that every nation can fix its problems by having an eternal baby boom is ridiculous.

This does mean that as the world population peaks we are going to be facing the immense problem of an abundance of very old people and a lack of young people to do the work of supporting the old.  That is an inevitable situation and we had better think up answers for that problem rather than just trying to breed our way out since we *know* that more babies is not viable long term!  For the moment the strategy of constantly bringing in immigrants into the first world is functional but at some point the world population is going to start dropping and then the current system is not going to be workable anymore.

From a personal perspective I found that the advice on having children was very much like the advice on relationships that you can expect from people:  That is, not very useful.  I have been in relationships that weren't right for me and nobody said anything until afterword where they questioned my judgement; while I was in the relationship though I got nothing but encouragement.  My mother tells me that within minutes of meeting Wendy she was sure that Wendy would make a great partner for me, this despite the fact that Wendy was married to somebody else at the time.  She didn't say anything of the sort until long after though! The same sort of story applies to having kids.  I got lots of encouragement but precious little information or deterrence.  Not that I would have listened to anybody anyway in either case.  The two situations have in common that I wouldn't do what I was told by anybody else and that people didn't tell me what they really thought; I guess I got the information I deserved.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Protesting in a strange place

Today when I was walking to Elli's school I came across a large group of people carrying signs and shouting.  I was a bit puzzled because they weren't standing anywhere significant particularly but rather just in front of a random building in a light commercial area on Eglinton Ave.  When I got close to them I sorted out from their signs that they were protesting against US troops being in the Philippines.  Their leader proceeded to scream at me through a megaphone from about 1 meter away and I beat a hasty retreat - I have a real thing for avoiding excessive noise.

So here is what is puzzling me.  Why are a group of Philippinos protesting against US troops sitting in midtown Toronto?  I knew that the US had bases in the Philippines but wasn't exactly aware of opposition to that fact so I suppose they succeeded in informing me of their concerns but how does it matter that I know?  Even if you think that the average American voter has a real say in where the US army goes you can't possibly think that a random Canadian does!  What does my knowing that a few Philippinos in Toronto dislike US military presence in the Philippines accomplish?

I am really not much of a protest person even when I think the protest is on the right side and appropriately staged.  I just don't see the point in it much of the time though the Arab Spring last year really did show us that protests can serve as a real force for change.  In that case though there were protests in places that really stood to matter doing things that couldn't be ignored; protesting US politics in other countries on Eglinton Ave just doesn't seem likely to get anything done.  No one who notices can do anything at all about it; even if I could change US policy on a whim the Philippines would be way down on the list.  It might get fixed by "Dismantle 90% of the military" though which would be pretty high up there.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bag it up

I am proud of city council in Toronto this week.  They gave up on forcing retailers to charge 5 cents for plastic disposable bags because the law was not compatible with Canadian anti competitive laws and instead decided to outright ban all disposal plastic bags come next January.  While I don't think laws to regulate price fixing really need to cover this sort of thing I can see why we want to enforce them - price fixing is really bad in the great majority of circumstances.  Of course the vote to ban the bags wasn't unanimous and mayor Ford called the motion 'ludicrous' and talked about how it would not survive a court challenge.  Ford's primary platform is slashing taxes, gutting programs, and letting businesses do whatever they please so his stance is not in the least surprising.

There are some fantastic quotes surrounding this event:

Councillor Doug Ford said "As far as I am concerned we are dealing with a bunch of radical, leftist socialists down there."  I could suggest some radical, leftist, socialist policy changes that I would like the city to implement (like having the mayor not be an overtly racist homophobe, say) but I don't think that trying to prevent garbage from being generated really counts.

A spokesperson for the plastics industry said "the move will kill jobs in Toronto" playing the ever popular card of "fear for your job security!" that gets so many awful things done all around the world.  Never mind that it is based on no evidence and makes absolutely no sense.  Certainly it will hurt the disposable plastic bag industry but obviously for every job lost in that industry another springs up somewhere else.  For this argument to work it would have to somehow be the case that the money that is spent on plastic bags now vanishes into the ether instead of just being spent on something else.  Industries threatening job losses over government regulation have about as much credibility as two year olds threatening to hold their breath until they die.

The right wing folks are generally deriding this move as government gone wrong and excessively interfering in people's lives.  What they seem to miss is that interfering in people's lives is pretty much the entire purpose of government.  They are there mostly to prevent negative externalities from destroying society:  Prevent crime, put out fires, maintain roads, take away trash, etc.  People constantly throwing out disposable bags creates a ton of trash and litter for virtually no gain.  We could at least use recycleable and biodegradable paper bags in the circumstance where reusable bags aren't available and since people flat out won't do it on their own (the tragedy of the commons strikes again) the government needs to step in and fix it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pictures on the sidewalk

On Tuesday Elli decided it was time to go make pictures on the sidewalk with chalk.  We wandered outside and sat on the pavement with a bag of popcorn, a stuffed dog, and a box of chalk for about 30 minutes.

We drew a tree with multicoloured leaves, an angry face, a 6 sided die, a sword and a couple of suns.  It was a nice time though I honestly had more fun watching the reactions of the people walking by than I did making the pictures themselves.  The usual scenario was a couple where a man would step on one of the pictures and a woman that would scold him mercilessly for doing so; not that stepping on them did any damage but the disrespect for cuteness was unacceptable.

What really got me was how happy this seemed to make everyone.  I'm sure there were a few people who walked around us without really paying any attention to what we were doing and a few who thought we were being vandals or somesuch but there were a tiny minority; mostly everybody who saw us smiled and seemed genuinely happy to see me and my daughter out covering the sidewalks in badly drawn pictures.

There is some very deep seated appeal to a happy child creating things with a loved one.  If I was doing this myself I doubt very much I would get anything like the same response.  Presumably it triggers memories of good times with parents or children in each observer's own life and gives them a bit of good association buzz.  Regardless it seems like a wonderful thing to do with a kid.  You get a lot of fun which sticks around for a little while but the artwork eventually fades away instead of clogging up your closet.  I like that, especially because it seems to make the people walking by so happy as a nice side benefit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Something gross; also, regular maintenance is good

Yesterday I started up my vacuum and heard a terrible grinding sound.  At the same time the awful smell of burning rubber began to waft up towards me from the troubled machine.  I quickly turned it off, rather concerned that I had managed to burn out the engine somehow.  I opened up the rug beater and saw a completely outrageous amount of hair wrapped around it clogging the machine up and obviously causing all the problems I was seeing.  After chopping the hair out I balled it up tight into a nice sphere:

I should note that I have very large hands - this ball of hair is completely insane.  How in the $%*(@# did this all fit inside the rug beater in my vacuum?  I turned the machine on again and it was very quiet - it sounded like the motor wasn't working at all.  I cursed my incompetence and my lack of regular maintenance.  After four years or so I really should have cleaned the damn thing out and now it seemed that the engine was fried.  I took the whole thing apart trying to see if there was anything I could fix but nothing obvious appeared so I reassembled it and tried actually vacuuming with it.

It vacuumed beautifully and very quietly.  It turns out the normal horrible screeching noise I was used to was not 'working as intended' but rather 'screaming for mercy' and had been so for years now.  It seems that if you take care of your tools they function much better than if you ignore them until they break down utterly.  I must say though that I am very pleased with my vacuum purchase now - if it can keep on working through this level of neglect I think that buying the more expensive one must have been a good idea.  The guy who sold me the vacuum really was telling the truth about getting what you pay for.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Playing games together

There is an ideal in the world of hetero gamer men.  It goes something like this:  Beautiful gamer woman walks into your living room, you hit on her, date her and end up marrying her.  She agrees to go off and earn money while you sit around playing games all day and in the evenings and on weekends you play games together.  What could be better?

Against all odds I managed to make this happen.  I rolled well I suppose?  Naw, must be skill.  The trouble with this scenario in my case though is that it is hard to play games together when two people are in really different worlds.  Wendy and I are both hyper competitive and I in particular want to play games really intensely or not at all.  Diablo 3 came out and I have been playing like a maniac, working my way through the later and harder parts of the game.  Wendy has been slowly catching up and we have been playing together but we are starting to hit a wall where the stuff I am doing most of the time requires serious time commitment, research, and practice; far more than Wendy has the time for.  It is tricky for us to share the game because the things I have fun doing require way more time than normal people can afford to invest.

We can see the reverse when Wendy's friends at work talk about the things they do there.  They have a common language and understanding that makes it possible for them to communicate things that I haven't much of a hope of figuring out.  I have a vague understanding of what MRI research entails but it simply isn't sufficient  to allow me to do anything but sit around and nod when they get really involved talking about work.  I could of course eventually learn what I would need to know to participate but I don't have the interest to spend thousands of hours to do so; the same sort of situation Wendy is in with the games I play.  The difference, of course, is that I don't have any sort of expectation of understanding MRI research and nobody else really expects me to either.

In some ways it is easier when we don't share hobbies.  When I am working on building a game and Wendy is knitting we both do our thing independently but when we play games we both *want* playing together to be perfectly easy and smooth.  We have a good time doing it but I think we both really want to get that feeling of shared flow from doing something together at the same level where we are challenged equally and that can be tough to achieve.