Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cupcakes are tricksy, much like hobbitses

Wendy and I had our eighth wedding anniversary on Monday.  As is our usual habit with such things we ignored it; both of our sets of parents make a much bigger deal out of our anniversary than we usually do.  Wendy went off to a knitting club for the evening while I hung out at home.  Contrary to my usual routine I elected to do something interesting and productive ? while Wendy was out and produce food.  Our wedding ignored the traditional wedding cake and went with a selection of delectable cupcakes instead - I highly recommend this strategy both for deliciousness and cost.  Given this I decided to make cupcakes for the first time.

Normally I use my internet aggregate cooking system for recipe creation but that is risky to use when baking.  Thankfully it turns out that the first recipe google located for me while searching 'chocolate cupcake recipe' was dynamite.  I managed to create an excellent shade of purple (enthusiastically approved by Wendy who loves purple very much) for the the icing and was all set to go, or so it seemed.  Unfortunately I am a bit clueless when it comes to many things so icing got spread on the cupcakes while they were still warm.  This resulted in something of a mess.

It turns out that cupcakes that are slightly warm melt the icing and it drips all over the counter, the cupcake liners, and anything else nearby.  So much for presentation.  The project went over very well when Wendy got home though.  It turns out that the cupcakes existing and being purple was the key to the bit; them being pretty wasn't required.  A piece of luck, that.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Buying a smartphone for the first time has some obvious effects.  You can talk while away from home, send texts, and have a mobile GPS.  These things are all predictable.  There are other things that are not so predictable though like the fact that owning a smartphone has kindled an interest in music for me.  Since I can now listen to music wherever I go I end up listening a lot more; this in turn means I listen to a much greater variety of music and now find a need for organization and categorization that never existed before.  I am methodically going through my collection but it is quite a long process since I have ~500 hours of music sitting on my drive at the moment and I feel like I need to listen to everything to sort it properly.

These sorts of unpredictable ripples characterize nearly everything we do.  We can predict much of the simpler repercussions of our actions but nobody would have predicted my renewed interest in the obscure bands I have randomly collected based on me owning a mobile phone.  This is a really good example of why science fiction authors haven't a hope in hell of building reasonable models of future societies with extremely advanced technology - we can't even predict what a single new technology will do in a few years time, much less model ten thousand technologies over centuries.  I often laugh when people try to make predictions about what will happen on earth in a few decades, particularly since even if you boil down predictions to a simple number (say, GDP) of a single nation over a short timespan people can't agree on what will happen.

I think a lot of people find this unnerving.  There is so much that we don't know but which people pretend to understand and that uncertainty can be frightening.  I don't find it so though... rather I find it exciting that small changes have completely unpredictable effects.  When it comes to games I have never found that I am the best at perfect analysis but rather that I excel at making rapid decisions with extremely incomplete data.  That extends to all parts of my life, I think.  I enjoy coasting on the surface of a sea of data picking out important points here and there to draw conclusions from.  I know that my conclusions will not be provable, nor certain, and will often be wrong.  But they will be right more often than not and I find it more enjoyable to maximize my chances than search for certainty most times.  I think this is why I love poker so much - by the time you know for sure the game is already over.  Make the best guess you can and run with it!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Campfire stories

Ah, sitting around the campfire.  Is there anything better?  One of the best parts is the conversations that come out of it.  Like, for example, the following conversation which occurred on Friday while camping in The Pinery with Sandbox Lady and her family.

Sandbox Lady:  S'mores are the best part of camping.

Me:  No, that isn't the best part of camping at all.  *wicked grin*

Aussie Accent Girl (6 years old):  What do you mean?

Me:  I will tell you when you are older.

Elli (6 years old):  I think you mean sex!  Because I caught you and mama doing that this morning!


Elli then proceeded to take Aussie Accent Girl off to their tent and give her Sex Ed 101.  We overheard such phrases as "and the whole bed shakes".  Wendy and I were left sitting at the fire caught between apologizing for our offspring and laughing our asses off at what just happened.  Obviously this is not the way you want your children to have their first introduction to the concept of sex since Elli's idea of what sex is can't possibly be right but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.  Sandbox Lady evidently gets to have the first sex talk with her daughter a bit ahead of schedule.

Of course Elli was right, which is the most amusing part of all.  She doesn't yet know that I meant sex on a beach in particular but she sure had the general idea.  The moon coming out from behind a cloud and flooding the scene with light, the sound of the waves, and the stars overhead ... yeah, that is the best part of camping.  S'mores are fine and all and things cooked over a campfire have a particular zest to them that it probably all in my head but they certainly aren't the best part of camping.  They *are* probably the best part of camping you should talk about in front of your 6 year old though.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Read my mind or I will become ANGRY

Lately Elli has picked up a new and very troubling habit.  In lieu of speech she simply points at something and expects us to figure everything else out on our own.  For example this morning she was utterly refusing to get out of bed and throwing a tantrum.  I tried very hard to pry out of her what was wrong and after five minutes of wrangling she finally pointed into the living room.  This was not especially useful as I couldn't fathom what the living room had to do with her mood.  After another minute she said 'sofa'.  Again I was flummoxed and asked her repeatedly to use words because I could not interpret pointing at the sofa.  Finally she said 'Hobo' and a light went on - she was angry that Hobo was no longer sleeping on our sofa and had headed back home in the far East.  Her friend had abandoned her!

If it were only a one off incident I would just drink half a bottle of Jack Daniels and go on with my day but it has become a constant occurrence.  Oftentimes she isn't even willing to point with her hands but will gesture vaguely with her feet and become enraged when waggling her foot around randomly doesn't lead us to understand her problem exactly.  She is clearly falling prey to the fallacy that if somebody cares about you they must be able to determine exactly what is angering you and therefore people who don't instantly divine your problems must hate you.  In a child this is an incredibly frustrating problem but what really concerns me is that it might continue on into adulthood.  The assumption that anyone who really cares should just *know* what you are thinking is not just wrong but incredibly destructive.  I learned that lesson in a relationship a long time ago and I do not want that sort of misery for her.

Unfortunately I don't know if this is the sort of thing that can be taught.  Parents have a lot less influence than they think they do it turns out and even if I had a lot of influence I don't know that I could usefully impart the lesson that assuming that people around you are selective mind readers is an incredibly stupid thing to do.  (Clearly parents can influence their kids destructively but given that you aren't going to be neglecting or abusing them you can't actually do all that much, it turns out.)  I guess that is one of the harder parts of being a parent - not just watching kids make mistakes but worrying that they are going to make precisely the same mistakes you did and knowing that there is nothing you can do to prevent that sorrow.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cursing up a storm

Hobo and I had a good discussion this weekend about cursing.  We both feel like there are two strong forces pushing on our use of 'dirty' words and no clear resolution.  Obviously there is pressure to not curse from relatives, officials, etc. but mostly that is something we don't worry about - the real pressures are oppression avoidance and diversity of expression.  Note that I am going to writing curse words in this post explicitly so it is NSFW - a little, anyway.

There are a huge number of words that people used to used as insults or curses which are fading in usage due to the fact that they are obviously referring to a marginalized group.  That is so gay, this is retarded, Jewing people down, etc. are phrases that clearly perpetuate stigmas against specific groups.  Cursing using those words clearly is a problem, particularly when used in a context where some people aren't aware of how the group in question feels and who imagine that this usage justifies discrimination.

The trouble is that I keep extending the prohibited list of curse words further.  I don't like using fuck as an insult or curse because quite frankly it is always used in the context of the person being fucked being portrayed as bad / defeated / weak.  A word that suggests that being on the receiving end of penetrative sex is bad is definitely a problem in terms of misogyny even if you can get past the general sex negativity of it.  In addition anal sex is particularly used to denote being in a truly terrible situation which trashes gay men.  Of course gay men aren't the only ones having anal sex (they aren't even having most of the anal sex, not even close) but calling everyone who has anal sex bad isn't an improvement!  Lots of folks, straight, gay, or otherwise, enjoy anal sex just as something fun to do and there is no reason it should be stigmatized.

The butt is another favourite topic for swearing.  In addition to butt sex being naughty we have a fascination with asses and shit as things to curse about.  This, I think, is a little more defensible because feces is actually an unhealthy thing we pretty nearly universally have a taboo about.  Nobody in particular is suffering because we think poop is bad.  That distaste still bleeds over into problems with rear ends in terms of sex though, but I feel like this is the least problematic area of cursing.

On the other hand we have the problem that our diversity of expression when it comes to cursing is vanishing.  Virtually every word aside from 'bad' is problematic for one reason or another and that leaves little room for creative description or explosions of expletives.  Striking out portions of language as unacceptable also just rubs me the wrong way - I feel very strongly about being able to use language in whatever way I want.  That freedom to use the full breadth of language smashes into my desire to not insult particular groups or denigrate specific behaviours regularly.

I was thinking about trying to mine other languages for curse words I could steal.  I don't know if there are words in non English language that mean 'bad' but sound creative and aren't discriminatory, but if there are I want to know about them.  Even if my audience doesn't know exactly what I am cursing about they will naturally tend to assume that if I am cursing in another language I am probably really pissed off or disgusted so the general message will get across if nothing else.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's talk about sex baby

It isn't all about sex, mind, just the general sentiment that we should talk about things.  Acknowledging realities instead of ignoring them is critical even when talking about them is challenging.  This is true of any social issue from homophobia to healthcare.  The only way for everyone to have some kind of understanding of a topic is to discuss it openly using proper terminology.  I watched a really interesting little video today talking about how when people are presented with a game similar to the old board game Guess Who? using real people and including minorities they shy away from talking about race.  That is, they ask things like "Is the person you chose a woman?" or "Is the person you chose wearing a hat?" but try very hard to avoid questions like "Is the person you chose white?"  The key is that people who avoided using racial terms did so to avoid the appearance of racism but ended up being viewed as *more* racist rather than less.  People can tell when someone won't address race and they don't think well of it.

Also, wow Guess Who? is an artifact.  Roughly 30 people designed to be very different in appearance and yet everybody is white.  And I never even saw that until now.

The same sort of thing applies to homosexuality.  When someone is comfortable using the term and is willing to refer to people as gay or straight (or bi, or queer, or whatever label they like) people naturally assume they are less biased than someone who wiggles about trying to say "those people" or other such wishywashyness.  Gay rights and acceptance requires that people be comfortable talking about it and accepting that is it normal.  Being cognizant of the standard labels and using them easily is a small but necessary first step.

This is true regardless of your minority group type or name.  Poly, trans, gay, black, female, mentally challenged, or any other group that has specific difficulties being accepted all start the path towards acceptance by getting everyone to understand the terms and use them.  The trick is that we don't get anywhere by simply pretending there isn't a problem and refusing to acknowledge what is in front of our eyes.  We all know we can see racial differences and that we are not colourblind even when we try to be.  We cannot solve racial issues by deciding to ignore race and burying our collective heads in the sand doesn't work for any other marginalized group either.

It all begins with saying "This is a group of people.  These are the labels they use.  This is what those labels mean.  This is how we use those labels."  There is much to do after that certainly but this is where it has to start.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Farting and such

I found a strange article a little while ago talking about things not to do in a marriage.  Specifically the author was listing off the terrible things he did that blew up his previous marriages in an attempt to help others.  His list was composed of two major types of things.  1.  Stuff that is blatantly obvious.  2.  Stuff that is wrong.  The blatantly obvious stuff includes not openly criticizing your partner, continuing to show affection for your partner, not yelling at your partner, and other pearls of wisdom.  The wrong stuff includes things like never letting your partner see you poop and never farting in front of them.

See, I completely get and am on board with the idea of trying to look decent for your partner.  People don't like it when you spend your courtship period all dressed up and sporting six pack abs and then immediately swap to a Tshirt from the 70s, a mullet, and a big ole pot belly.  That said I can't sign on for the necessity of pretending you don't have bodily functions.  We all have to fart and poop.  Hiding it away and acting as if doing so is shameful is silly and reinforces body shame issues we all struggle with.  Asses are not shameful, they all produce relatively similar stuff, and sneaking around acting as if you are the singular exception to this rule is wasteful and pointless.

Of course I went and violated this rule last night.  I have eaten some bean salad and hoo boy did it wreak some havoc on my digestive system.  I am normally relatively immune to bad smells since my sense of smell is quite terrible but the noxious gases I was releasing were something else indeed.  We were snuggling before sleep and I got up and wandered out of the bedroom; Wendy was confused as this isn't something I do.  I told her that I was leaving the room even though it was in violation of my earlier rant... this didn't clarify things much for her.  I dropped my bombs and wandered back in to sleep.  That is the sort of thing you should do for everyone though, not just a partner you wish to keep around for the long term.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On disagreeing

Lately I have been thinking about how various people deal with supporting their spouse in conversation.  For example, if your spouse says something that you feel is dead wrong when at a party do you correct them, say very respectfully that there exist alternate views, support their statement, or laugh at them and ask if they are willing to make a bet on that?  Generally I find that I lean towards polite disagreement because although I don't want to upset Wendy I do expect her to be strong enough to be able to deal with dissenting opinions.  If she could not deal with being wrong and admitting fault I wouldn't be particularly interested in her as a life partner.  Obviously insults are not appropriate in this context; suggesting that a person is incorrect is very different from calling them stupid.

It should surprise no one that Wendy enjoys catching me out in mistakes and proving me wrong when I make errors... I recall a disagreement over the specifics of a recipe a short while ago wherein she took great glee in proving that I misrecalled the instructions.  I *was* right in the sense that the recipe was silly and complex just for the sake of complexity but I was wrong about the particulars.  This is of course the right strategy for her to take because one thing I really want in a spouse is someone who can push me to be better, smarter, and more precise.  I need someone to call me on my shit, as Hobo once said.

I often find myself at a loss to figure out what to do when another couple is disagreeing about things though.  Obviously I could try to maneuver the conversation away from the touchy subject or otherwise try to avoid a potential conflict.  I could also poke at it and refuse to let it die with the intent of watching some fireworks; this latter choice seems imprudent in the long run but could certainly generate some entertainment.  When I am talking with people I don't have a lot of respect for I would generally choose to steer the conversation away I think because I don't have any desire to cause an explosion, particularly if I might be blamed for it.  When I am talking to people I respect though I would generally be inclined to simply proceed without paying much attention to the conflict.  Generally I assume that people can handle their own issues and don't expect me to pussyfoot around them.

This probably fits in nicely with how I talk to people in general.  The more I am just making polite noises the less respect I likely have for the person in question.  People who are strong and whose thoughts and reason I respect can handle the truth; people who I just have to deal with get small talk and a quick exit.  Note I am not claiming this is the right way or the only way... just that it appears to be my way.  I think it does imply that I have a lot of respect for those who choose to read my blog though as I do pretty much call it like I see it here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Not exactly a deal

Wendy likes to peruse Groupon deals to find new and interesting things to try.  For those who aren't familiar, Groupon has random deals you can buy into for anything from clothes to floor cleaning to a dinner for two at a restaurant.  They are drastically lower in price than normal.  Some months ago she bought a Groupon for a dinner at a local italian restaurant for $30.  It included an appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and drinks, which is certainly a deal ... isn't it?

Last week we finally got around to cashing our Groupon in and went to Piazza Trattoria to have dinner.  We got bruschetta to start, pasta and pizza, a chocolate ice cream dessert, and two glasses of wine for Wendy.  Presumably most folks have one glass of wine each but that isn't how we roll.  :)  Everything was fine though not amazing and because we had to pay tax and tip on the theoretical total instead of the Groupon value it ended up costing us $45 in total.  Not a huge amount of money, certainly, but somehow it didn't end up feeling like much of a deal.

Had we not had a Groupon and gone out for dinner we would probably have ended up at Green Papaya instead and ordered two entrees for a total outlay of $26.  We wouldn't have gotten a dessert nor any wine but I can't say that the experience would have been worse.  Even if we have to account for the wine and dessert we would normally just buy wine at the LCBO and make dessert ourselves for practically nothing - tacking that on certainly would not raise the cost above $35.  So here we are having spend $10 extra for a dinner that was slightly more convenient but not really any better... not much of a deal at all.

I think the trouble with Groupons is that you so rarely get exactly what you want.  Of course the restaurants want to tack on dessert and appetizers to the Groupon - those are items that they have enormous margin on.  It sure looks like you are saving a lot of money but unless you really wanted to spend $7 on a small (but very fancy!) ice cream you really shouldn't count that into the Groupon at full value.  Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about spending $7 on ice cream you could go home and eat for less than a buck...  without the fancy chocolate sauce sprayed all over the plate at random, mind.

There is some small benefit in getting us out to new places since we tend to get ourselves in a rut but I don't think that is worth it.  Strange that the benefit of a Groupon isn't the price but rather the random direction it points us in; that isn't exactly their marketing pitch.  I am perfectly content to just eat pineapple fried rice at Green Papaya and/or prato at Grazie every single time though so I don't think I am eager to try random Groupons for restaurants again.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


A driving force in most people's lives is Progression.  That is, they want to move along a predefined line in their lives towards a goal.  Culture pushes us forward, assuring us that as long as we are moving along the path of School, Acquire Career, Get Married, Have Children, Get Promoted, Retire, Die we are doing well. People who have no interest in following that path are looked upon as being selfish, lacking in goals, lazy, or foolish.  I read an interview with someone that could be described as a 'singles evangelist' who talked about how people view those who choose to be single very negatively.  There is an assumption that anyone who is single must be damaged goods or deranged because otherwise they would find somebody and get busy with Progression.

The problem is not getting married and it is not having children.  I got married and had a kid and that is all fine by me.  Progression is a bad thing because it carries the assumption that everyone *must* do these things and that those who do not are doing it wrong.  The world has plenty of kids and we really don't need to increase the rate of production.  When you take away children as a necessity you also reduce the need for marriage tremendously - why worry about being married or not if you aren't trying to create a stable, long term environment for children?  Of course children can be raised in all kinds of circumstances but one cannot argue with the fact that having multiple parents around long term is very useful in the raising of kids.

Many video games actually have this exact same debate going on but framed in different terms.  In WOW, for example, characters are constantly striving to acquire better and better equipment.  There is a huge amount of pressure to maximize that Progression and push towards being 'perfect'.  There is also a tremendous amount of vitriol directed at those who choose not to take part in Progression and who simply mess around doing whatever is amusing at the time.  It is clear that we as a species have some innate drive to push towards goals and also to want others to have the same goals.  We have a desperate need to feel that we are Progressing and moving ever onward and upward.

I think the fundamental issue is that if we let everyone define their own goals the goals we have chosen for ourselves suddenly feel less universal and necessary.  People often want to just get high and have sex for their entire lives but they go out and do things because society tells them they need to Progress.  Once they are on board with that plan they usually feel compelled to push Progression as the only way - after all, if it isn't the only way then why not just go spend every day napping under a shady tree?  I tend to advocate for playing video games instead of shady trees but the principle is the same; do what makes you feel good and don't worry about Progression.  It is a sucker's game and the only way to win is to not play.

Monday, July 8, 2013


My hat got stolen a little while ago.  Now I have a new and improved one!

Tilley hats are the best hats in the world.  I went with gray this time instead of off white because presumably it will show the sweat stains less... plus the gray style was much more comfortable.  It still makes me sad that somebody would run off with my favourite hat but at least I did get to upgrade from a stained old hat to a pretty and better fitting one.  My hat is tipped to the folks who funded the replacement.  :)

Today I took it out for a test run in a savage downpour and was much pleased.  To be fair the rain did run off the back of the hat and end up on my back but nothing is perfect - my head was perfectly dry!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Last night I sent Wendy a text while she was out with some friends.  A single word text, in fact.  "Nipples"  I sent it and waited, knowing that her phone would whistle and she would check it within a minute or two.  When no answer came back I was elated - I was fairly sure that this meant I had achieved my goal.  When she got home the following conversation took place:

Wendy:  So why did you send me that text earlier tonight?

Me:  Well, I figured that you would see it and you would laugh.

Wendy:  Okay, well, that happened...

Me:  And then I figured you would show it to your friends and they would laugh too.  Did that happen?

Wendy:  Well, yes.

Me:  Victory!  <Fist pump>

Maybe I am just weird.  Scratch that, I am weird.  In particular though I love doing little experiments like that  to see if I can predict people's behaviour accurately.  She could have had any number of reactions but I was sure it would be 1.  Laugh.  2.  Friends ask about laugh.  3.  Show friends.  4.  Friends laugh.  The lack of reply was the key - there was nothing to say.

You can send your wife a text saying "Nipples" and it is science.  I was testing a hypothesis!  Making the world a better place!  Expanding the sum of human knowledge!


Monday, July 1, 2013

Bah humbug

Canada Day is here again.  Time to drink, play, shoot off fireworks, and loudly and raucously yell about how great Canada is.  I mean, sure, Canada is a pretty good country.  If I was given the option to grow up in a totally random country or Canada I definitely choose Canada.  We have our problems including a government that wants to solve the rest of the problems by implementing strategies that failed miserably in other countries in decades past but overall things are pretty good.

What bothers me is that it is still the same old blind patriotism that leads to no good.  Why should we celebrate a particular chunk of soil that was decided upon mostly at random by powerful men centuries ago? Why love those who happen to be born on the right side of those arbitrary lines better than anyone else?  Why spend our energy proclaiming how great we are instead of talking about how we can be better yet?  Patriotism is a useful tool for recruiting cannon fodder for wars and isn't much good otherwise.  Whether or not you think it is good to have a tool to recruit young folks to send off to die is perhaps worth considering also.

I am not proud to be Canadian.  I am not ashamed to be Canadian either.  It is just a thing that exists - much like I am not proud to be born in 1978 or to be 193 centimeters tall.  They are just things I am and are devoid of emotional impact.

Hooray for everything somehow lacks the same charm as nationalistic chants.  Somehow it is so much easier for people to get behind a slogan that portrays their own group as amazing rather than everyone.  It is a little sad but has always been true and probably always will be.