Thursday, February 28, 2013

Internet aggregate guacamole

Awhile ago I decided to learn to make guacamole since Wendy loves it.  It turns out that I love it too, and the way I arrived at my recipe was to use my internet aggregate cooking system.  In short, you google your dish, guacamole in this case, normalize the ingredients (as if they were all using 2 avocados, in this case) and then look at the secondary ingredients.  If a secondary ingredient appears on at least 3 of the 5 recipes you average the amounts and put it in.  You have to be smart of course because if 2 recipes list lime juice and 2 lemon juice you really need one or the other, but mostly it works out very easily.

The great thing is that any given recipe on the internet might suck but averaging them like this works great.  People as a whole are fantastic at coming up with great food and Google is great and finding the recipes that people recommend and return to.  Voila,

Internet Aggregate Guacamole

2 ripe avocados (soft to the touch, must compress when squeezed hard)
1 very large tomato
1/2 a small onion, or 1/4 of  large one
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2/3 tsp salt
2/3 tsp pepper

Dice the tomato and onion finely, mix everything in, and mash the avocados until they are somewhere between a paste and tiny pieces.  Serve!  I like using round hard wheat crackers to eat with but you can honestly put this on nearly anything from hamburgers to salad.  Wendy just eats it with a spoon.  Om nom nom.  Adding in two cloves of finely chopped garlic also works nicely if you swing that way.

The word is vagina

Last night we spent a couple hours at The Hospital for Sick Children.  Elli is going to be fine as it was mostly a precautionary measure but I was somewhat boggled by a nurse we ran into there.  Nearly everybody we ran into there seemed great except for that one person who made me wonder if she had any place in the profession.  Here is the story:

The nurse was telling us that we needed to get a urine sample the next time Elli went to the bathroom.  Getting urine samples from adults is a fairly straightforward process but doing so from a six year old who is feeling utterly rotten is another matter entirely.  Thankfully (?) I am familiar enough with this process that it works out all right.

The nurse turned to Wendy and began to explain how to go about getting the sample.  Wendy told her that I would in fact be the one collecting the sample so I should be the one getting the explanation.  The nurse looked at us like we were crazy and got us to repeat the assertion that Daddy would be collecting urine from the little girl instead of Mommy.  This incredulity would make some sense if the hospital had single gender washrooms but because it is a kids hospital they don't.  The explanation continued and concluded with "you use this wipe to uh... clean her thing."

The word is vagina.

Elli is a girl, and like most girls she has a vagina.  I should note that I don't have one but that doesn't mean I don't know the word or that I will somehow be offended by the use of a proper medical term.  Hell, I fathered a child... I presumably have some kind of familiarity with vaginas!  I totally get that giving this explanation to a male is not the norm - the mothers are going to be the ones doing this 99 times out of 100.  The nurse wasn't at a dinner party trying to avoid offending dear old Auntie's delicate sensibilities though - she was, and is, a medical professional in a hospital.

There are several good reasons to make sure medical terminology is precise.  First off, regardless of who nurses are talking to they need to make sure instructions are clear and unambiguous for purely medical reasons.  You really don't want parents guessing as to how to perform a procedure and accidentally doing things wrong.  Secondly, declining to use the proper terms for female genitalia contributes to the demonization of female sexuality and one would hope that in a hospital that sort of thing would not occur.  Sadly that is not always the case.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Prince Charming

Children's programming has all kinds of weird and unfortunate messages embedded in it.  For example, count the number of gay characters in children's movies and tv shows... not exactly a big list.  Obviously most characters in little kid's entertainment are safely asexual but anyone that has a sex drive is hetero.  Feminists have long decried the Prince Charming story where the helpless heroine sits around and waits for her perfect match to show up and save her and these days that is actually a lot less of a thing but there is still a long way to go.  While it is common now for females to take a large role and to save the day the end result is still almost uniformly presented as eternal love with a perfect partner.

That assumption that finding just the right person is the secret to a perfect life is something that really bothers me.  I love Wendy deeply but there is no such thing as a mystical soul mate nor a perfect partner; we are simply two people who work rather well together and are fantastic partners in life and love.  That doesn't mean that we will always fulfill every need the other has and it doesn't mean that we are fated to be each other's one and only forever.  Real life tends to interfere with that plan and there is no reason to think that partnerships need to follow the path of

Fall in Love
Tragic Misunderstanding
Dangerous Circumstance
Selfless Act
Perfect Love FOREVER

I think that these sorts of standards really hammer it into children's heads that once you meet someone who you love they are obviously supposed to become perfect and be with you forever and that just isn't reasonable or realistic.  People fall out of love, they grow in different directions, and sometimes love just ain't enough.  Ending a relationship is not failure and should not be viewed as such.  Certainly sometimes relationships are torpedoed by somebody doing something singularly selfish or dumb but an awful lot of them just end because it is time (or long past time...) for them to be over.

I have been reading Open:  Love Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage and it really brought home how damaging this idea of perfect love FOREVER is.  The author was in a marriage that regularly made her miserable for years because she simply couldn't figure out how to get around society's insistence that her marriage work a particular way.  Of course most marriages don't work like the Prince Charming story because much more than half of them have infidelity and the great majority have some amount of conflict and misery but we as a society insist on pretending otherwise to our children.

One man, one woman is a marriage 'norm' that is on its way out.  I suspect and I hope that other damaging and silly standards will follow the same path.  Standards like marriage must have precisely two people, marriage is FOREVER, and 'my partner must be all things to me'.  We will be far better off when the message we send to our children is that they should surround themselves with people who make them feel good and love them rather than that they should expect anyone to be their Prince Charming.  We can and should search for people who are awesome but expecting perfection leads to nothing but disappointment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Games in Waterloo on Easter, again.

So for all those who either know me in real life or who live near Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and like games there will be a big games day in the Comfy Lounge at the Math and Computers building on the University of Waterloo campus on Easter Friday.  We will play games, and talk, and probably a lot of small children will show up and run around and remind us all that we are getting seriously old.

You should be there!  March 29th.  Save that date.  No excuses, not even 'boo hoo, I live in the wrong part of the country.'  Use the intervening time to invent teleportation, cloning, or some other solution.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On not being everything to everyone

Recently I have been spending a lot of time hanging around with stay at home moms that I met through Elli's school.  Initially I just saw them at school while I volunteered but I have been slowly integrating myself into the whole social scene that is interconnected with the school and it has illuminated a few things.  Mostly it has made it clear to me that I have been a bit dumb in my life in terms of who I have been friends with.  Not that my friends have been bad, quite the contrary, but I have pursued friendships with particular sorts of people to the exclusion of others.

Since I got to university I have been friends almost exclusively with gamers and math geeks.  They understand my jokes, obscure science references, and gamer culture.  If I talk about taking a hook, first picking Morphling, or rolling to see who has to play the cleric they get it.  Because being a gamer geek is a huge part of my personality and history this is awesome and really important; I need that outlet.  Unfortunately I think I have, in the past, spent too much time focusing on people who share that aspect of my personality and have lost out on the breadth of humanity.

For example, I have had lots of conversations about marriage, sex, and children recently that the great majority of my gamer friends simply wouldn't be interested in or knowledgeable about.  Talking about how it feels when you are in the middle of sex and a small person knocks on the bedroom door asking for a drink of water is something you need a certain amount of experience to appreciate!  Also, talking about wanting to punt said child off the balcony after getting them said water and parking them back in bed is best done with those who have been there.

It is fantastic to have that sort of community and it really got me thinking about how I have in the past expected my friends to be everything.  I understood that our experiences differed of course but I never really openly acknowledged to myself that my friendships with people can and should be entirely different from each other.  There is no need for the person I play board games with to be the one I confide in when I am worried about something, nor for a friend I met through Elli's school to be somebody I get drunk/high with.  I can happily see some people constantly and others twice a year.  Rather than searching for people who can be all things at all times I should really focus on spending time with people who fill niches that I need and who make me happy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

You get what you pay for

A few weeks ago I went to Elli's classroom to help with their Scientist in the School program.  It seemed to me that the program itself was really good but the big thing that was beneficial was simply having more adults in the classroom.  When the teacher was trying to control all of the kids herself it was such a challenge - some kids listened reasonably but half of them were just sitting there twitching and bouncing while staring off into the distance.  Nearly all of those were boys, to no one's great surprise, and while I could get through to them when I was in charge of 4 kids at a time I can't imagine they could absorb much with one adult watching over 20 at once.

Recently I read an article about how our schools are failing boys and I feel like it had some good points but missed the essential lesson, which is that to educate everyone effectively costs a truckload of money.  It is all well and good to talk about how schools are set up to reward children who can sit still, focus, and be happy with desk work and note that girls are far better than boys at that.  Unfortunately it isn't as if we can just change our attitudes and magically fix things so that kids who have to be constantly running around and doing whatever they want can be taught effectively.  To manage that sort of chaos you need more people and resources, and given that our schools are facing substantial cutbacks as it is that is not going to happen.  We can do better than we currently do certainly but paradigm shifts only go so far.

There is a shift towards home schooling these days that goes along with a criticism of schools as just warehouses for kids.  While I think the warehousing metaphor is sometimes apt I don't think that universal homeschooling is actually the answer since what a lot of parents actually want is warehousing.  They love their kids but staying at home with them all day every day is a lifestyle many people do not enjoy.  Kids who have a safe place to go where they will learn some things and spend a lot of time playing and just doing their thing are doing fine.  They don't all need special enrichment or constant attention and parents don't need to be their everything.  This is coming from someone who has a pretty miserable time in school for a good decade - academics were easy, but actually dealing with the hellions who were my peers was mostly wretched.

We need child warehousing, which we have, but we certainly could do better at making sure that the kids being so warehoused learn and enjoy their experience more.  To accomplish that though takes resources and empowerment of teachers rather than the current government strategy around here which is to demonize the teachers, interfere excessively with their work, and make sure they don't have the tools they need to do their job.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Olympic Influence

Recently the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that wrestling would be cut from the Olympics.  There are a bunch of sports clamoring to replace it like baseball, squash, and roller sports !! and while the linked article is obviously biased in favour of wrestling I don't see their point as being particularly valid.  Saying that a sport is really old is hardly a compelling argument for its inclusion in an international athletic competition - beating people's heads in with clubs is pretty old too.

'Chasing the money' is a charge levelled at the IOC regularly and although I think it is true I don't especially think it is a problem.  They want to showcase sports that have a big following and which people care about and surprise! that ends up being the sports that are financially successful.  There are plenty of Olympic sports that mostly just get watched when your home country has a medal prospect involved and it doesn't seem like a problem to ditch small scale sports like that for big ones. It is impossible to include everything so basing some of the decision on viewer popularity is entirely sensible.

What is unfortunate, I think, is that so much of the support for a sport is contingent on the approval of what is essentially a private corporation.  When a sport isn't featured in the Olympics countries don't fund it, people don't watch it, and there is a lack of enthusiasm for it on the basis that it isn't important.  Imagine how popular the hammer toss, javelin throw, etc. would be without that badge of Olympic inclusion.  Not that I dispute that the IOC should make these calls because they certainly have to make decisions, but rather it is irritating that so much importance ends up being placed on their decisions which often end up being rather arbitrary.

If I were the one choosing new sports I think a lot of viewers would enjoy my selections but I would get utterly roasted by the critics.  I figure I would include women's roller derby (the men can compete too, but I wouldn't bother watching...), dodgeball, mixed martial arts, and starcraft 2 (casted by day9, of course).  You know, things that are serious athletic endeavours but which would be accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator.  Which, in this case, I guess I am.

Picture from wikipedia:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Women and sports

I have been mulling over the difficulties of women's sports after reading this article.  The thing is, women's sports are caught in a very difficult situation.  They get very little TV coverage and drastically lower monetary as well as cultural support than men's sports and this holds back their ability to field truly top notch teams.  Nearly all the coverage out there though is covering the top notch teams and the leagues they play in so you can't get attention without being awesome and you can't get awesome without attention.  Clearly some of the difference is attributable to pure sexism but a lot of it is rooted firmly in the desire to watch only the best teams play.

Do you know about the Houston Aeros?  I sure didn't up until now, and that is entirely attributable to the fact that they aren't good.  I don't know much about hockey but I sure can recognize the major teams.  It doesn't matter whether or not the Aeros have great sportsmanship, put on a fantastic display, or have sparkly jerseys.  They aren't the best so hardly anybody cares.  It is the same reason that you see so many people in Thunder Bay with Toronto Blue Jays gear ... the local team isn't playing in the big leagues.

If the rules of the games were changed to get rid of men's primary advantage I think this trend could be changed dramatically.  That primary advantage is size.  Hockey, football, and basketball players who are fast are great and all but being really big and strong is powerful.  Imagine if the team were limited by weight instead of by body count though.  Shaquille O'Neal and titans like him might well make way for two skilled female athletes at half his weight, but while size and strength are very important and we limit teams by person rather than by mass women have a nearly insurmountable disadvantage.  At the extreme top end the largest and most powerful female athletes are dwarfed by the men and that isn't changing any time soon.

One thing the article I linked suggested was removing the gender divide in sports, specifically the Olympics.  While this would be good in that it would remove difficult questions about transgender, intersex, or other folk who don't fit easily into gender norms it would, I think, demolish female participation in the Olympics.  I always found the gender divide strange (especially in things like chess!) but it certainly serves to increase female participation.  I don't think you can reasonably have women competing against men in most physical disciplines without really gutting overall female representation and I feel like the segregation is the better of the two options.

I would like to see more equal representation in sports and I would like to see mixed gender teams and competitions at high levels of play.  What I don't see is a path to get from here to there.  The sports we as a society like to watch massively favour males at the very highest levels of play and encouraging and supporting female athletes can only partly mitigate that.  We can remove barriers to female participation and provide all the support we can but I don't think we can fundamentally change the desire to only pay attention to the best of the best.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Patents get pretty ridiculous.  The fact that major companies spend millions on litigation to fight about patents that claim to describe the shape of the corners of a tablet should tell us that the current system is idiotic.  Another clue we should not fail to miss is that there are a slew of companies out there whose only purpose is to try to register ridiculous, overbroad patents and then shake down as many other companies as possible.  Of course they aren't actually using any patents nor do they even want to end up in court.  They just want to scare people into thinking they have to pay up to make it go away.

I just read an interesting article suggesting that patents should go away altogether.  Ending patents completely doesn't seem like it would actually work politically because so many huge companies would stand to lose so much but I really like the idea.  It would dramatically open up the marketplace and let real competition loose rather than forcing anyone without a huge legal team to just pack up to bullying from powerful interests.  Letting small innovators come up with new ideas and create niche products without being shut down by a silly patent would be a great step forward for all of us.

There is a significant downside to losing patents entirely of course; a lot of funding for research is only justifiable because the potential result can be so lucrative and if patents were not enforceable some research would not get done.  Of course the research that wouldn't get done might not be that valuable; when patents are in place research focuses only on things that can be patented.  While large pharmaceutical research firms do come out with nice new innovations here and there an awfully large percentage of their new products are barely helpful, or not helpful at all.  Research is also regularly tainted by the fact that it is being pursued within a huge company.  Scientists in hospitals and universities are not perfect but their research is a *lot* less biased that labs within private industry.

We have known for a long time that monopolies generate very undesirable effects in economic situations.  The consolidation of too much power in the hands of a single entity always creates abuse.  Patents contribute mightily to this because patents promote companies that have enormous legal teams and huge bankrolls rather than multiple small companies.  As we saw in recent years when companies get so big that their collapse would destroy entire marketplaces they are a huge threat to independent government and to stability, not to mention creating serious wealth inequality.  I think we will all be better off with a few less weapons in the arsenal of huge corporations.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tazer me not

I have spent much of today reading the back articles on Popehat about police and the terrible things they do sometimes.  After a few hours of reading about cops beating the snot out of people who photograph them, tasering people who are just standing around being strange, and outright being criminals because they will get covered for I am in a mood to hate all of humanity.  I suppose I shouldn't really let anecdotal data decide my positions on political issues, particularly when it is anecdotal data from another country, but all that reading has totally changed my mind about tasers.

When I first heard about tasers I thought they were a great idea.  The theory goes like this:  Cops shooting people is bad.  If cops have tasers, they can use tasers to stun people who are wielding bats, knives, or guns and avoid shooting said people.  This seems like a great thing because although tasers can be dangerous they are a hell of a lot less dangerous than a gun.  Who could argue with cops getting better tools to take down armed criminals safely?

Unfortunately tasers end up exacerbating the issue with cops having guns at all; when they have ready access to non diplomatic solutions they end up using them.  When all you have is a gun you had better be sure that it is worth killing someone if you pull it out.  A taser though is something you can just fire at anybody anytime you like because it shouldn't do permanent damage.  So giving a cop a gun and a taser tends to mean that they simply choose which tool is appropriate for the job and forget that it is by far better to use neither.

Not that cops set out to be jackasses or thugs by and large.  The trouble is that when you get in a tense situation and things are getting heated you tend to not have the wherewithal to make reasoned judgements.  Having that weapon on hand means it gets used even if in retrospect it wasn't a good idea.  Obviously there have to be SWAT type cops that have access to serious weaponry when it becomes necessary but the great majority of police interactions need no weapons at all.  Moreover in those normal reactions police will see more genuine respect and less fear if people know they are enforcing the law through authority and reason and not immediate threat of force.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

V is for

Today I got a vasectomy.  The experience was a weird one because as usual I was far more preoccupied with my conformity or lack thereof with social expectations instead of the actual business at hand.  When I fly I am not afraid of the plane crashing but I can't sleep because I am worried about missing the flight.  It turns out that when I am getting a vasectomy I am not worried about the knife but rather whether or not I should have shaved my own scrotum ahead of time or not.

I didn't, it turns out, because the doctor told me that no preparation was necessary.  The doctor and nurse talked about it a bit but in kind of an oblique way so I still don't know if they expected it or not.  Normally when you get into a situation where you may have screwed up and not done what you are supposed to do it resolves itself and at least you know better for next time... but not here.  Of course I don't expect to *need* this information later on but it would feel good to actually have the answer.

Wendy and Elli appear to be having much more of a reaction to it that I am.  I think the finality of not having more children hadn't really settled in for Wendy yet and that change is something that needs to work its way through.  Elli unfortunately desperately wants siblings that she isn't going to get so this whole situation is really stressful for her.  There is a lot of pressure to be a normal family and have two kids in our society and that really trickles down to nearly everyone.  Both of them seem to have that sense that there is something wrong, that we don't yet have a sufficient number of children in the house.  I don't have that in me anywhere as far as I can tell.  I would be perfectly content with zero kids but one is also fine.  More... not so much.

It was really strange to sit there knowing my very delicate parts were being neatly sliced in twain and being able to feel the tug and poke but not actually having any sensation of pain.  I guess doctors get used to the whole separation of pain and damage but it felt very weird to me.  There are plenty of horror stories of men being in incredible pain and spending days on the sofa with ice on their genitals after a vasectomy but I guess I am really lucky since it has been less of a hassle than a mild headache.  Maybe some of that is due to me being totally blase about the whole thing; I am sure that having an existential crisis while dealing with pain can't make things any easier.

Also, why do they provide a privacy curtain and leave the room so I can change?  You are planning on operating on my genitals while I wear a backless gown!  What could I possibly have left to hide?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Science is full of boring

There is a strong temptation to sensationalize science for public consumption.  New sources do this constantly (see "Einstein was wrong!" from the faster than light neutrino fiasco last year) but they aren't the only ones.  Entertainment is unfortunately full of relatively harmless pretend science from Star Trek to CSI where reality is ignored but nobody really believes that stuff is real and if they did ... so what?  Dr. Oz, though, is another thing entirely.

The real trouble is that if people like Oz report the real science behind medical news it sounds really boring.  They have to include a lot of 'in animals only, might not apply to humans at all' and 'insufficient sample size' and 'proven to affect markers of disease, but not the actual disease'.  All of these things are completely critical to evaluating the efficacy of a treatment but make crappy television so demagogues like Oz just make stuff up instead.  Nobody is going to listen to 'needs more research' when 'instant miracle' is available.  We don't need miracles.  We need boring old broccoli and walking!

Every week Dr. Oz appears on the cover of Woman's World magazine at the grocery store pitching a new and guaranteed instant weight loss program.  You would think that after he did this 30 times in a row that people would wonder why they listen to a guy who is so consistently wrong but apparently that doesn't happen.  He pitches unproven medicine, supports charlatans, and generally does his level best to completely undermine people's understanding and respect for actual medicine.

The thing that the average person just doesn't get is that science and research is full of boring.  It contains lots of doubt and uncertainty.  At the end you can have spectacular and amazing but an awful lot of the time all you have is data that shows that nothing new or interesting is happening.  That is useful and necessary but it isn't getting anybody's attention, while anti oxidants and fat free diets are miracle quick fixes that are totally useless in reality.  Sadly the thing that should really make people believe a statement is true is bunch of complicated and (to the average person) indecipherable references to study size, statistical sampling, and long term side effects while instead it just puts them to sleep.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Magical flying sparkly princess ponies

Elli is addicted to My Little Pony.  She watches episodes any time she can and seems completely satisfied, after viewing every show ever made, to start again at the beginning and watch them through again.  There is a lot to like in these videos; they are about a group of friends that have disagreements and difficulties that they work through in realistic ways.  Well, realistic ways emotionally... they are a bunch of flying magical talking ponies so strict realism is not always observed.  I generally like the messages they send about tolerance, being a good sport, helping people, etc. but there are a few things about the show that I find really disquieting.

First off, there is a huge emphasis placed on the wonders of hereditary monarchy and the inherent superiority of those in power.  The big boss is Princess Celestia and she is shockingly wise, unflappably self controlled, and universally loved.  Normal ponies get to have wings, a magic horn, or nothing at all but Princess Celestia has both wings and a magic horn (more powerful than anyone else in the world, naturally) and is also twice as big as anybody else and incomparably beautiful.  Of course everybody in the world bows and scrapes around her and gasps in awe that she would deign to grace them with her presence.  It is all very icky, especially when you consider that obeisance to authority figures seems to be given a higher priority than any other behaviour.  I just don't like the idea that we should teach kids that the folks in charge are inherently better than they are and that the masses of humanity exist only to obey.

Secondly but on a related note is the emphasis on faith.  I have no respect for faith being placed on a pedestal and would rather see it as a vice than a virtue.  Optimism and hope are fine and necessary things and they should not be confused with a certain belief in that which is obviously false, which is indeed what faith is.  A recent episode saw a life lesson imparted that can be summarized as "When people say things that are obviously wrong you should just believe them anyway because science doesn't tell you the truth, faith does."  Because, of course, believing what anybody says is what a nice person should do!  Unfortunately they utterly failed to deliver the correct lesson which is that we should let people think whatever damn fool thing they want but that does not extend to letting them harm others on the basis of their damn fool beliefs.

In practical terms I can't imagine that watching this stuff has any serious impact on children long term.  I watched endless reruns of He Man and Thundercats and other garbage when I was young and I though I could tear them apart now I doubt they did any real harm.  Still, I am going to continue to cringe when I see another animated pony say "Oh no, we better not let Princess Celestia see the mess us normal ponies made of things.  She is obviously perfect and not sullied and debased like all of us who were stupid enough to be born commoners."

Picture from:,55168/