Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A strange worry

I was talking to a parent friend yesterday about logistical challenges.  We take turns bringing both children home from school and with the recent good weather (today notwithstanding...) both of the kids have starting riding bikes to school.  The ride isn't long but the four city blocks we need to cover are extremely full of pedestrians and construction as well as the general risk of being near a very busy street all the time.  Picking up two kids is easy, picking up one kid on a bike is not bad, but picking up two kids on bikes is a real problem.  They just aren't very good at riding yet and we have to help them get going, make sure they stop, and try to keep them from running people over and doing that with two independent wobbly small ones is a tricksy.

We both agreed that the really hard part is the other person's kid.  I can decide what risks I am willing to take with Elli and be as cautious as I feel I have to.  If she gets a scrape or some other minor accident occurs I can just deal with it and move on - it is a risk you run and these things aren't important in the long haul.  When it is somebody else's kid though everything changes.  I don't feel comfortable taking risks in that case because I really don't want to have to explain why their kid is bleeding, much less why they have a broken leg or other serious injury.  Even if I was doing everything right that situation is a bad one.

That feeling that we must take more care with other people's children then our own is a big problem.  It is why schools enact ridiculous safety programs that try to encase children in a bubble and prevent them from stretching themselves, from figuring out their own abilities, and from understanding risks.  It is why governments make a million and one rules about child rearing that end up stifling growth rather than promoting it.  Safety is all well and good when it is just one of the weights when making a decision.  Unfortunately it is often weighted far too heavily, sometimes to the extent that nothing else is considered.

Unfortunately at the moment I can't really bring two kids home on bikes.  They just aren't skilled enough yet to ride near each other without crashing into each other or other people and they really should have somebody nearby to help them.  I guess the solution is to ride constantly on weekends to get their skills up to speed so that they can be trusted to ride on their own.  I really want to just let them go, just in the way I was let go to ride away when I was young.  The magic combination is a three way convergence of practice, teaching, and freedom.  Time to get started.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A little bit of love

I read an interesting article today talking about Casual Love.  The idea is that we should remove the requirement of reciprocity from love and be comfortable with people being in love with others even when the feeling isn't mutual.  I like the idea in principle, but I like it in the way that I like communism.  You know, it has great taglines and a cool concept but isn't practical outside of a very small set of specific people.  Living in a society where nobody would be upset about being in love with someone who does not feel the same way would be great.  It would be a relief to be able to tell people I love them without that powerful sense of obligation, without fear, without feeling like I have dumped a major decision on them.  Unfortunately I think parcelled along with love usually comes a very big helping of wanting love back and I don't see how we scrape that out of people's minds and habits.

I do wish we as a society could dump a lot of how we view love, especially the ideas that it must be exclusive, singular, eternal, and come along with a domestic arrangement.  People can love many other people, it can come and go without anybody needing to feel like a failure, and it doesn't have to be a within a marriage.  Love can be great and wonderful in all kinds of arrangements and configurations as long as the people experiencing it are made happy by it then we really don't need to police the structure they use.  Love five people or none, have sex with them or don't, live with them or not, wander in and out of love as you will.


I don't think that expecting everyone to evolve to the point where they don't expect and desperately desire to be loved in return is going to happen.  People, even if they don't expect permanency and exclusivity, want very much to be loved back.  Obviously sometimes they will be satisfied or even perfectly happy with a one way love but that isn't going to be the norm.  It would certainly be good for us as a society to be more accepting that these things happen and not immediately attract creepy labels to them but there just isn't any good reason to think that we are going to get to the point where people normally say I Love You and honestly are okay with any response at all.

We can be pretty flexible about how we are loved but we do by and large want to be loved especially by those we love in return.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A serious sort of person

Val and I were talking about our basic attitudes towards skills and challenges the other day.  I have a relatively odd sort of disposition in that I feel that I could do absolutely anything excellently if I put my mind to it.  It sounds like boring old narcisscism but I think there are some key differences between me and someone who is just simply full of themselves.  I don't think I *am* particularly good at most things, I just have a core belief that I could do anything I wanted to.  I also don't attribute any particular valour or importance to it - who cares about unrealized potential if I don't do anything about it?  This isn't something I defend or believe in or choose, rather it is just the instinctual way I think about things.

"I could do that.  I could be great at that.  I probably won't though."

Most people don't think like this.  Val pointed out that in academia in particular people are very often familiar with impostor syndrome where they feel like they have somehow snuck in and really don't know anything.  I don't feel that way most of the time and certainly not about skills and areas of knowledge - I think people generally rate my abilities at things about the same way I do and it mostly reflects reality.  I am really damn good at games, decent and writing and speaking, and have few other skills of note.  Somehow despite that my brain is consistently able to remain utterly, completely certain that no matter the task or competency I could be world class at it if the desire was there.

I do feel imposter syndrome when I am trying to be a Serious sort of person though.  I mean, do serious adults really spend all of their time thinking about Diablo 3 builds, roleplaying game mechanics, and sex?  I mean, I totally think about buying groceries and making small talk and making computers do what I want but only for just long enough to make the world conform to my wishes.  The instant that is done it is back to tongue wrestling and games.  Sometimes when I am walking about the world and people are treating me like a Serious sort of person I wonder.  Do they imagine that I am thinking about The State of the Economy or Politics or something else important?  I do, but only for a minute, and then it is back to longsword damage modifiers and tab A and slot B.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Girly girls

On Friday I was in Waterloo for the annual Back To The Lounge day.  We sat around playing board games, chatting, and remembering being young and stupid(er).  I got involved in a 'high stakes' barbu game for ten cents a point and felt pretty confident in my ability to clean the table out but I ended up only slightly above par.  Regression to the mean takes more than thirty two hands to kick in it turns out.

Much of the game revolved around mockery, taunting, and trash talk.  One must, after all, strongly encourage others to double you when you have a strong hand and the best way to do this is to call their fortitude, courage, and very worthiness to live into question.  My favourite tactic for this purpose at the moment is to shout "Wussy wussy wussy!" at extremely high volume and high speed at my opponents.  Then Rummy started calling people girly girls for refusing to double.  I told him that I really didn't think that was appropriate and he responded that he wouldn't say such things in front of his kids.

I totally understand where it came from.  Back in the day we regularly called each other girly girls in that sort of situation.  Heck, it wasn't even just the men doing so as the women in our gaming crowd did the same thing sometimes.  We weren't mocking women so much as it was a pretty egalitarian group in most regards - we were mocking femininity.  That of course doesn't make it better but it is a slightly different thing.  I don't do that now because I think that mocking femininity is a huge problem in all kinds of ways.  I certainly wouldn't do so in front of Elli but I also won't do it anywhere else.

Rummy isn't some sort of woman bashing knuckle dragger - he and I have lots of talks about how we teach our kids about social justice issues from feminism to queer rights to environmentalism and I know he doesn't believe negative things about women or femininity.  I totally get the desire to reconnect with the good ole days and shout the things we used to shout while we play the game we used to play.  Finding that space that is associated with so much joy is a wonderful experience.  I do feel like even in that space though we should recognize what we screwed up in the past and correct it.

This clearly isn't the biggest thing in the world.  It is a good lesson though about how there are many simple ways in which we push people to the margins without any intention to do so, or even with explicit intentions to the contrary.  We are the educated straight cis white dudes and if anyone needs to suck it up and set the best possible example it is us, even when it involves burying a bit of our past that we treasure.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good ideas in an ugly package

I found a bizarre rant by John Campbell, a slightly famous writer of internet comics.  He has decided to stop writing comics and is burning a copy of his book for each person that writes him about how he has reneged on his promises made during the Kickstarter campaign to write the book.  He talks about how money is a fiction (well, duh) and that he just wants some people to pay for all of his needs so he can sit around and do whatever he likes.  The standard response to this is to slam entitled liberalism and call him a nutjob, and while I understand that response I mostly think he has some good points buried in a big pile of rubbish.

I am of two minds.  First off, I actually do support the idea of a universal income for all adults because our society can definitely afford this and it really has all kinds of fantastic benefits.  It certainly wouldn't be much of a living and nearly everyone would take a job to supplement their universal income both for monetary and pride purposes but there are a ton of edge cases that are so much better in that scenario.  Unemployment insurance, welfare, and other parts of the social network are very patchy and random and hard to navigate for many people and a universal income is just so simple that it helps the people who truly need it the most.

On the other hand parts of the 'everyone should take care of me why should I participate in the system' rant drive me crazy.  People don't necessarily want to drive trucks, farm, lift crates, wash vegetables, write spreadsheets, and operate cash registers and yet all of these things must be done to get food to you.  Somebody has to do them, and the attitude that other people should just do them and there is no need for *me* to do anything anybody else would find value in is deeply frustrating.  That attitude is incredibly selfish and naive and ignores the fundamental truth that many things need to get done to take care of people's basic needs and there are simply not enough people who will volunteer to do them - incentives are necessary.

I seem to want to give John Campbell his money but I think he is a delusional ass.  I can't tell if this is hypocritical or not.  I do think we should set up a system so people can just do what they want and still have enough to live but I find a lot of the people who want this for themselves to be ridiculously entitled and self centred.  I guess I am weird in this regard because I don't particularly advocate for a universal income on the basis of justice or mercy or 'it is the right thing to do' but rather I advocate for it because it seems like the most practical thing to advance joy and mitigate suffering.  I do understand the appeal of the American Dream but I recognize how bullshit it is in practice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Piano, yes or no

Elli has been taking piano lessons for the past ten weeks.  She requested them and was very excited initially and since we have a keyboard sitting around it seems like an ideal choice for an instrument.  I was concerned that we would have to nag her to practice and I really didn't want that - if she wants to play, great, but if not then I don't want to pay for lessons.  Forcing the issue just doesn't seem appealing or useful.  She was enthusiastic and agreed that she would practice without nagging and we all agreed that if she did not practice the lessons would end.

This week the first round of lessons ended and Elli had practised twice in total over ten weeks.  I was ready to end the lessons as per our agreement.  Wendy was not on board with this plan.  She loves piano and really wants Elli to play.  For her the idea of telling a child who really wants to take lessons that they are not allowed is just awful.  She wanted to encourage Elli's interest and let her continue.  I on the other hand think that dealing with the consequences of your choices is a vital learning experience.  Elli made a deal and now the terms of that deal need to be followed through on.  Giving in and letting her continue establishes that we don't mean what we say and that we don't expect her to either.

I remember when I was in grade 5 and I failed to build a science fail project due to procrastination and foolishness.  I had to admit in front of the whole class that I simply didn't build one and although my classmates probably forgot the incident 30 seconds later I still remember it to this day.  It taught me something in a way that screwing around and getting away with it never did.  All the times in my life where I really got better, where I improved and became a more worthy person, were times when I got my ass kicked and I *deserved* it.  I want Elli to have those moments when they arise because right now the stakes are very low indeed.

This conflict is one of the parts of parenting that nobody talks about.  There is a real challenge when you look at your child and you are certain that this moment, this particular choice, is a critical point of learning and your partner disagrees with your convictions.  It is deadly hard to back somebody up on a choice they make when you absolutely do not agree with the choice and when it is something you feel passionately about.  There are many reasons that children break up marriages and I think this is one of the ones we just don't speak enough about - the necessity to swallow your convictions and wholeheartedly support a cause you fundamentally disagree with.

In our case one of us was going to have to swallow a very bitter pill.  Fundamentally I want Elli to have that desperate feeling of doom, that crushing despair.  Not for a lifetime, but just for a short while.  I want that because out of that feeling comes strength, determination, and compassion for others who are suffering.  Wendy did not want Elli to feel that way.  In the end Wendy got her way and Elli is signed up for more lessons with a new agreement to encourage practising regularly.

Sometimes I think the villain in Braveheart, the elder The Bruce, really had it right.  "Uncompromising men are easy to admire....  But it is exactly the ability to compromise that makes a man noble."  Sticking to your guns is easy, compromise is hard.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Loving games

Lately I have been very distractable, had difficulty sleeping, and focusing has been difficult.  I have found myself thinking of a particular thing all the time, unable to let it go, rest eluding me as my mind continues to worry away at it.  It brings me such joy though, and I don't want it to stop.  I speak, of course, of my new addiction to Diablo 3.  The expansion pack is amazing fun and you should all buy it so you can come and play with me.

What has been amusing me this morning though is the degree to which my fascination with this game is the same as falling in love.  The cliches are all the same - can't sleep, can't think straight, sitting around fantasizing about the object of one's desires all the time.  These two feelings aren't exactly the same for me of course.  "Mmmm, boooobs." and "Mmmmmm, 100% more critical hit damage." do have some key differences but they really end up operating along similar lines.

Only one of them causes me to start building spreadsheets though.

I would be very curious to stick myself in an MRI machine and try to figure out if the two states are similar from a medical perspective.  It would be a challenging experiment to construct, of course, because controlling being in love or being addicted to a new game in any sort of precise way would be ... problematic, at best.  It isn't as if I can try to make this happen and have that work, though I am pretty sure I can decide not to have this happen and have it crash down upon me regardless of my decision.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Caught you!

Wendy and I wake up every morning to the Proud FM radio station.  They are, as the name suggests, very much a gay themed station and although the music is much the same as any other pop station they spend a lot of time on news specifically relating to gay issues.  They would phrase it as LGBT issues, or maybe queer issues, but that isn't actually what they do it turns out.  This morning they had a piece on Jesse J, a female musician who came out as bisexual a few years ago and is now claiming that she is straight since she wants to marry a man.  Bizarrely they talked about it as a gotcha moment where they were finally able to confirm that she is straight as they knew all along.

I really don't get the appeal of the 'Haha, we caught you, you fake bisexual!'  It was as if they were claiming that she had lied all along and that they knew she really wasn't on their team after all.  It is entirely possible to be a woman who is mostly interested in being in a primary relationship with a man and still be very much a bisexual.  One does not need to carefully have sex with a man and a woman each week in order to retain one's bisexual credentials and being bisexual but mostly leaning one way or the other is perfectly normal.  I know a bunch of people who are exactly like that in fact.

It isn't even a necessity to stay in one particular mode throughout life as there are plenty of examples of people whose orientation shifts over time.  Much of the advocacy for gay rights has focused on the 'born this way' argument and unfortunately both gay and straight folks tend to lean on that pretty hard and assume that you are on a team assigned by either God or chance and you cannot change teams.  It just doesn't work that way; many people play for both teams regularly, or mostly for one team but moonlight for the other, or play for one team for a few years then swap.  Sexuality is remarkably fluid even though that isn't what either of the teams talks about most of the time.

Proud FM really should be more straight up with what they are promoting.  That is, they are a LG radio station.  They talk about marriage equality, which is a good thing, and about gay rights, which I approve of, but they really don't give much more than lip service to either the B or T in LGBT.  In that they are following right along with mainstream culture that has widely accepted gay marriage and the 'born this way' rhetoric but still views anyone who won't pick a team with suspicion and has a lot of issues with trans folks.

People who talk about the entire alphabet soup LGBTIAQP+ where they actually mean everyone in the group are actually pretty rare.  Mostly they are talking about a small specific subset of the group and use the acronym pretty randomly without thinking about the fact that those people are really very different.  They have some common cause in not conforming to gender and relationship norms but the actual challenges they face are enormously different, not to mention their level of visibility and acceptance.  Gay people aren't super well represented in the media but compare that to trans, poly or asexual people and you see a huge gap.

I wish that people like Proud FM who claim the label for themselves actually took the time to think about it a bit before making it part of their image.  It isn't much use to claim to be inclusive of particular groups when you really have very little interest in actually doing so.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I do not think that word means what you think it means

The internet needs a gigantic sign on it that everybody has to read before they enter that says "Freedom of speech does not mean that the government should enforce your point of view and censure other points of view."  This week there was quite the kerfuffle about Brendan Eich, the new CEO of Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser.  Eich donated $1,000 to anti gay marriage causes a few years ago.  Many people were angry about this choice and the internet dating service OkCupid decided to make a special main page for Firefox users that encouraged them to download other browsers in protest.  Finally Eich stepped down, his ability to lead compromised by the controversy.

I don't like people who are bigoted against LGB folks.  Eich is similarly entitled to not like LGB folks, and also to not like me.  We can both make political contributions or deliver diatribes on the internet without fear of government retribution because we have free speech in our respective countries.  (In theory, anyway.)  However, there is no guarantee anywhere that delivering such diatribes or making such contributions will not result in negative consequences for us in terms of our interactions with other people.  Free speech is *not* about being able to say anything and everyone having to shut up or agree with us, it is about freedom from government censorship, interference, or aggression over our statements.

While I am certainly on OkCupid's side in this mess I don't want to give them too much credit since this is a pretty fantastic publicity stunt for them.  They are the queer and poly oriented dating site (among the mainstream dating sites, at any rate) and so this is certainly a great way for them to cater to a big chunk of their demographic and get their name in the news at minimal cost.  I don't know that taking a swing at an entire company just to target the CEO for objectionable viewpoints is necessarily the best tack to take from an advocacy perspective but it sure worked at getting attention and that is really the main point for them.

Everyone involved has the right to do what they did and since the government did not interfere nobody's rights have been violated.  Everyone has all of the free speech they are entitled to.  What happened is that the free market of ideas determined that Eich's viewpoints are unacceptable and he suffered reasonable consequences.  That is just how these things work, and it is exactly the way they should work.

It is becoming less and less acceptable year by year for people to be bigoted against marginalized groups, and although acceptance is not proceeding at the same pace for every group it is clear that the trend is for the better.  The marketplace of ideas that once very clearly supported the sort of views that Eich holds, and indeed much more unacceptable views than that, has evolved, and people who wish to take on public and important positions should take heed on which way the wind is blowing.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Doing it wrong

My current internet plan with Bell has a limit of 65 gigs a month.  Due to the necessity of downloading a boatload of Diablo 3 files I blasted way over my limit and was concerned at the size of the extra charges Bell was going to levy against me.  I know they charge $2 a gig for overuse and I didn't want my purchase of the Diablo 3 expansion to accidentally cost me an extra $50 just for bandwidth.

I cruised over to the Bell website and it turns out I owe $34 extra dollars for usage.  Ouch.  There is a little thing there though that informs me that I can still add extra usage to my account for the month.  On further investigation I discovered that I can pay $5 a month to get my limit to 90 gigs, which is high enough to ignore my current excesses.  Seems good, but I figure I should talk to a representative to make sure upgrading my account will actually work on this month's bill since the billing period ends tomorrow.

The representative assures me that I can buy my extra usage now and it will work.  Great!  Then they tell me that the cost is prorated over the whole month, and since I have only had my extra usage for 2 days I will only be billed 34 cents.  Then the rep tells me I can cancel in two days and not be charged for next month if I want to.

So just to be clear.  Bell was planning on charging me $34 for my usage.  Now they are explicitly telling me how to pay only $.34 instead, and how to do it in a way that is extra irritating for Bell as my plan is rapidly changing.  As far as I can tell I could do this every month if I wanted to, paying a few cents for all of the extra usage I would ever need by only having it active on the day that the monthly bill is calculated.

I get it that these sorts of things happen with big companies.  Customers find workarounds but mostly nobody is going to bother doing them for the piddly savings.  But how often to customer service reps specifically suggest ways to scam the company out of money by abusing loopholes like this?  Is it really policy to offer me 99% discounts as long as I am willing to irritate both of us?  Juh?

Bell, I can't decide if I should call your training program amazing or boneheaded.  I a