Sunday, July 23, 2017

Report on supplies

I am at the world boardgaming championships this week.  So far it is a highly enjoyable affair, particularly the part where I get to get reacquainted with a bunch of smart, interesting people that I met last year.  It is wonderful to be able to so easily step into really intense strategy discussions and debate with people who are so talented at this thing I do.

My actual gaming results so far are pretty mediocre, but that isn't surprising considering the schedule.  I played a lot of Agricola but I am not one of the sharks in that game - to be good you need to know every one of the hundreds of cards and also know just how good each of them is and how they interact with all the other cards.  I know a few of them.... but I am nowhere near a strong player.  I have enough skill to beat a lot of the randoms that show up but I am not the best player at the table.  I ended up with a 2nd, 2nd, 3rd set of results, and I feel like that is reasonable because I think I was the 2nd, 2nd, 4th best player at the table in those games.

It isn't often I sit down for a strategy game thinking that I am the worst player at the table, but it happens in Agricola at WBC.

My food strategy for last year worked reasonably so I am following it again.  I bought a ton of fruit and vegetables that would keep and lots of granola bars so I don't have to go to restaurants.  I just can't convince myself that paying $25 US for a buffet is reasonable.


It is Day 2 so far and I have eaten more meat than I bargained for.  My meal plan calls for half a package of meat per day, and the first day an entire pack went away.  Cereal and peanut stocks remain full though, so total calories for the week is probably okay still.  Last year I bought 4 pounds of carrots, and after 3 pounds I was DONE with carrots.  This year I went with 2 pounds of carrots so it should be fine.  I budgeted for 6 granola bars per day for the duration and I am on schedule there.  My suspicion is that I will end up with peanuts left over but that the rest will all get consumed.

The absolute best thing about this year though?  Instead of losing my phone at the hotel before the convention and spending days in a panic trying to figure out how to find it and get it back, I have my phone in my pocket and I am focusing on the fun bits.  What a mess that was.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Keeping my eye on the prize

My post about answering a question from Pinkie Pie "Daddy, why do we clean up so much for guests?" got an interesting response on Facebook.  Someone I don't know waded in and opined that mine was an example of the disaster that is permissive parenting.  His basis thesis was that children raised in permissive households do terribly in school, both having emotional problems and testing poorly.  I want to break this down into parts to address each of them separately because I think that will be most revealing.

The assumption is that permissive parenting creates huge problems in school, and the conclusion is that children should be raised to be obedient in a more authoritarian style in order to avoid this.

I don't actually buy the assumption but the person writing it claims many years of experience teaching children, so I would be pitting my opinion against the opinion of a presumably better informed person.  I would greatly appreciate it if any of my teacher friends or family members could shed light on this issue from a more informed or even scientific standpoint.  Does permissive parenting truly make school much more difficult for children?

Let us allow the assumption to hold for a moment.  Assume that children raised in permissive households where they are allowed to ask questions and their opinions are given substantial weight have a difficult time in school and make it hard on themselves and their teachers.  Does it then follow that I should raise my child in a more authoritarian fashion?

It does not.

The problem is that the conclusion rests on an unstated assumption that the most important thing I can do is raise a child that will fit into a structured, hierarchical system like our schools are.  Not only do I completely reject that assumption, in fact I think I should be doing the opposite.  I don't want teachers to have a difficult time but beating my child into being the round peg that the system demands is exactly what I don't want.

I want my child to be curious.  I want her to feel that she has the right to guide her own life.  I want her to feel that she can and should confidently ask for reasons for the things she is asked to do.  I want her to be independent in action and thought and to question the dogma and common assumptions that are made all around her all the time.

When the school asks her to stand and sing the national anthem I want her to question why we sing a song that references God in a country that should respect all religions and those who do not subscribe to one.  I want her to have the courage to say no if she wants to, and know that I will back her up all the way.

I want a child who knows that when an elderly relative demands physical affection that she can say no, and that her decision will be supported and respected.  I want her to push past the boundaries of what everyone expects to find her own path.

And none of that comes from teaching her to obey without question.  My job isn't to raise a person who does what she is told.  My job is to raise a person who forges paths nobody else even thought of, who does things people say you can't do, and who builds things that were thought impossible.  I don't get to that point by telling her that she has to obey because I said so and I pay the bills.

I don't subscribe to some Permissive Parent Philsophy, if there even is such a thing.  Children are almost universally given more responsibility and autonomy as they grow, and I know I give her more autonomy at a given age than most parents do their own children.  I tailor her freedom to her abilities and desires as well as my own sense of safety.

I don't want to create difficulties in school for my child, but if raising her to think, to question, to seek to understand, and to resist orders that she thinks are wrong makes school difficult... then school is going to be difficult.  That is a price worth paying.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The big sacrifices

I found a chart the other day that really got me thinking about how we think about environmentalism.  It listed a bunch of the things you can do to help reduce your carbon emissions and their relative impact.  This is something we need more of, I think, because people do often focus on doing easy things that aren't especially useful.  For example, changing all your lightbulbs to more efficient ones reduces your output per year by 100kg.  Recycling reduces it by 210kg.

And declining one single return flight across the atlantic reduces it by 1600kg.

Yeah.  Just think about that.  Did all the things you tried to do for the environment for the entire year get dwarfed by that single long distance flight you took?

Mine didn't quite get zeroed out though, because I live car free, and that gives me a 2400kg bonus, so I am ahead on that count at least.

But the real killer is that a person in Canada emits roughly 20,000kg of carbon emissions per year.  If Wendy and I had decided to be childless then we could own a car and take five flights to Europe a year each and still be ahead of where we are now with our one kid.

And if we didn't have a child we would easily have the money for that car and those flights!

But people who have three kids?  There is *nothing* they can do that even approaches the scale of the emissions that their kids create.  They can go vegetarian, walk everywhere, completely refuse plane travel, recycle, hang their washing to dry, and it won't matter.  Their decision to have children means that the emissions from their family will dwarf the emissions from my family, period.

A really rich family could definitely push their emissions higher even with few or no children.  Buy a yacht and sail that thing around all day every day.  Own five houses and heat and cool the heck out of them.  Have a car for every day of the week, go nuts.

But by and large, it is the number of people that is the biggest factor once you take out the extreme high and low outliers in terms of wealth.

Not that any of this is news.  Overpopulation is the primary driver of basically all of our environmental concerns.  But sometimes you look at a chart and then it really hits you that population is the real thing, and the rest just follows from it.

I don't quite know what to make of it.  I made the decision to have a child without really thinking about it this way, and now it makes all of the decisions I make about environmentalism seem utterly absurd.  Penny wise, pound foolish, almost.

To clean or not to clean

A couple days ago we had a bunch of guests come over to our place to visit.  Pinkie Pie and I were home during the day so I set out to clean the place in anticipation of our guests arriving.  About halfway through Pinkie Pie asked me why we cleaned in anticipation of guests arriving.  I wanted to say this:

"Well Pinkie Pie, we, like most humans, exist in constant fear of losing our status amongst our peers so we engage in ceaseless virtue signalling in a vain attempt to convince those around us that we are superior.  We do this by vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, in a desperate gambit to trick people into thinking we always live in such cleanliness.  I know this, but it doesn't stop me from accepting a foolish social norm that clean floors equates to goodness of character and desperately trying to make my guests feel inadequate by making my home cleaner than theirs."

I could have said that.

It is nearly all true, even.  But she doesn't understand the term virtue signalling, and the concepts there are more than she can grasp in a single go.

So I broke it down a bit smaller.

"Well Pinkie Pie, I needed to vacuum the floor at some point, as it has been a week or two.  Doing it when guests are coming over is as fine a time as any, and if anyone is allergic to the cat then getting the cat fluff off of the floor is a good plan.  We don't *have* to do this for friends, but there are going to be a lot of people and so we will all appreciate having as much space as possible so tidying up is a good idea in any case."

I couldn't find a good excuse for scrubbing the tub.  It isn't like the guests are even going to see in the tub, the curtain will be over it.  I could have thrown buckets of shit in the tub and they wouldn't know except for the smell.

Yet I scrubbed the tub.

So I made sure to include a bit of that.

"Sometimes we are silly and we clean more than we need to.  It reassures me to have a clean place when guests come over, even if it is kind of pointless.  They probably won't notice or care, but I do feel better when I make an effort to show the better side of normal at my home.  I won't do anything unusual, but I feel better when I display an above average version of my home."

Then she got me.  She asked why I clean up for my friends but not her friends.

Touche.

She admitted that her friends wouldn't notice or care, and that she didn't care if I did, but she wanted to know why.

"I guess it just doesn't bother me to not have the place clean if your friends come over because they make a gigantic mess immediately anyway.  And since they don't care what the place looks like, and they aren't going to invite me over in turn, it doesn't matter to me much."

All of which is true, but it kind of sidesteps the fact that in this way adults matter to me and kids don't.  I am not measuring my status against children, so I don't try to impress them in this way.

I know some parents find these questions hard or unpleasant.  I love them!  They force me to articulate complicated concepts in simple words and examine myself in ways that I usually do not.  Plus they let me teach Pinkie Pie about the silly ways that the world works and makes jokes that make her laugh.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The downside of upsizing

The world likes to talk about how great it is to be stronger.  The benefits of working out are many, from being healthier to being hotter.  Much is made of the obvious downside - having to be in the gym all the time - but little is made of another downside, which is clothing and its inability to be multiple sizes at once.

I have seen plenty of diet programs advertised by showing people tossing aside enormous pants that they have given up because they lost so much weight.  Look at me, these people say, I was once a size that needed scientific notation to be properly expressed, and now my size is a number that a six year old can count to!

It isn't nearly as fun when you are getting bigger and having to set aside clothes that simply don't go on your body anymore.  This isn't a problem with shirts because half of the point of working out was to wear super tight shirts, #casuallyflexing but pants are a real pain in the ass.  Or perhaps more accurately, a pain in the gut.  I have been doing lots of core exercises and leg days these past few months and now I can't get into most of the pants and shorts I own.  My stomach basically looks the same, but it is clear I built a bunch of muscle underneath and now things just don't fit.  Or maybe I am building up muscle in my butt?  Hard to say.

On the weekend I even busted through my swimsuit when bending over, and my ass was hanging out of a 10 centimeter rip right up the back.

It finally hit a breaking point when I realized that my shorts were so tight they were messing with my digestive system.  I felt like I had to poop but when I went to the bathroom and took off my shorts there was suddenly drastically less pressure around my middle and I didn't need to poop... or at least I couldn't.  There were three trips to the bathroom over the course of an evening where I really felt I had to poop but my body wasn't in any shape to do so once my stomach was free of its bonds.  Something had to change.  My belly yearns to be free, and I want my properly calibrated lower digestive tract back!

So I went and bought new clothes.  Not a ton of them, but enough that I actually have things to put around my lower bits that don't mess up my body's internal sense of when it is full, at least.  Doing so reminded me of why I hate shopping so much and why I always wear my clothes until they fall to off of my body into a pile of rags.

Apparently it is now normal to produce new pants that have a single hole the size of a quarter on one leg.  I get the thing where pants are made with tons of rips and holes as a 'style' thing, even though I would never buy them, but I am totally flummoxed at who thought a singular hole was a design that would sell.  That isn't 'style', it is just shoddy.

It almost tempts me to yell about teenagers these days... except I remember too well the things some of my contemporaries wore when I was young.  Pretty sure nothing much has changed.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is a book in a series by N K Jemisin.  It is superb and wonderful and everyone should read it for a dizzying array of reasons.  When I review books I try to provide both positive and negative feedback and avoid portraying things as PERFECTLY GOOD or TOTALLY EVIL, but The Fifth Season is just wonderful cover to cover.  There is nothing bad to say.

The story is a fantasy / sci fi crossover.  It is set in a far future Earth, or perhaps an alternate Earth.  It has incredibly futuristic technology as well as magic, although of course when you talk about a story set 20,000 years in Earth's future, the magic could well just be technology that is beyond our modern day comprehension.  The title of the book refers to the fact that in the Earth of the book there is drastically greater volcanic and tectonic activity than today and times of cataclysm are common.  When tsunamis strike and the air is clouded with volcanic ash, when poison rains from the sky and winter lasts for years at a time, this is the Fifth Season.

The world is beautiful and deep and marvellous.  The magic users of the world have incredible power but are counterbalanced by other forces.  Jemisin doesn't just spend her time going over how the magic works technically though because she has embedded it deeply in the political and cultural norms of the world.  The constant catastrophes and the way that magic users can prevent or alter them is a critical part of the worldbuilding.  This isn't Feudal England with Fireballs - it is a completely new world that Jemisin reveals to us, and it is one that makes sense.

I love it when fantasy is done like this.  It is boring when the world is just assumed to be Earth but with random magic stamped in willy nilly.  Far better is someone who twists the entire world to react to the presence of magic and shows us amazing new things that humanity could become in that place.

Jemisin does a great job of having a diverse cast of characters too.  She describes people so that you can see their racial features and understand what the characters look like without simply assuming that everyone is a normal white person like so many fantasy books do.  She also includes queer and trans characters seamlessly and beautifully.  It isn't a story about what it is like to be queer, or even what it is like to be queer in a magical society.  It is simply a story where some people are queer or trans and they are just part of the narrative.  Needless to say women also get to play an equal part in the world, another thing few fantasy or science fiction stories manage.  We need more of this!

Similarly there are love stories that aren't monogamous ones.  This certainly hits home for me because monogamy utterly dominates books and stories of all sorts, but The Fifth Season has characters who end up in non monogamous relationships that are quirky, individual, happy, and loving.  The book isn't about polyamory and indeed the word never appears but the best and most functional relationship that the main characters end up in consists of three people.  Even better, I think, that it isn't a simple triangle of perfect loves because all three of the people have different relationships with one another.  It reflects real life in that it is tricky and messy sometimes, but it works for them.

The technology and magic in the world is interesting and well written.  The history of the world is deep and fascinating to learn about as the book progresses.  The characters are flawed, real, difficult, and compelling.  The diversity of the cast and the way that Jemisin weaves in stories that are so often forgotten or ignored is marvellous.

This is the best fantasy book I have read in a long time.  Maybe ever.  This is also the best science fiction book I have read in a long time.  Maybe ever.  If you like either of those genres, this is what the biggest and best new thing looks like.  The third book of the series comes out this summer and I will be eagerly awaiting it.

You should too.

Dressed down to stand out

Pinkie Pie graduated grade five this week and will soon be moving on to a new school.  There was a fair bit of disagreement amongst parents as to how to handle this change because most of us remember not having any sort of graduation ceremony until grade 8 but the kids were all wound up to the maximum about it.  Even so, lots of parents talked about all the money they spent on new clothes for grad, some of which were never expected to be worn again.

Most of the parents don't really care about it, but we don't want to stomp all over the kids' feelings either.

When this sort of thing happens, even if parents don't care much about it, there is a big focus on dressing up and appearance.  Most of the kids were in fancy clothes and there was a lot of makeup, new haircuts, and extra polish evident.

Pinkie Pie wanted to just wear her normal tshirt and leggings.  

Most parents would forbid this.  I am not most parents.

In fact, I quite like the idea of her refusing to put on a culturally mandated costume for this event, and I quite approve of wearing normal clothes.  I did have some worries eating at the back of my brain though.  I was concerned that other kids would make fun of Pinkie Pie's lack of dress clothes.  I was concerned that she would end up feeling uncomfortable at a table full of fancied up kids in her normal gear.

My solution to this was to tell her she could wear whatever she wanted but that other kids would be dressed up fancy.  I told her that she would probably stand out.  I made completely clear that she was welcome to wear whatever she liked though, and that I personally didn't care.

She chose to go with her regular clothes and as far as I know nobody said a word about it.  If I had seen them give her grief I would have been really tempted to step in and crack some heads (by which I mean I would tell them they are terrible people) but I saw nothing of the sort and Pinkie Pie came home at the end of the evening quite pleased with everything.

Even if they had given her grief about her clothes though I would not have regretted my decision to let her pick her wardrobe.  You have to learn these lessons yourself at some point or other, and learning them in grade 5 is a relatively low impact spot.  

After the grad she went out to a restaurant with her classmates without us and came home telling us of all the wonderful things that the Mandarin restaurant serves.

I suspect many or most parents would be a little sad at watching their kid grow up like this.  Graduating to a new school and going out for dinner without us is a couple of new steps all taken together.  I LOVE it.  

It makes me happy to watch her grow and mature.  I like her every step into independence and freedom and being herself, away from us.  Fly, little unicorn, fly!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poly correlations

I noticed something odd recently about the people I met last summer.  When I went to the World Boardgaming Championships in July I met a ton of new and interesting people and ended up being Facebook friends with 9 of them.  Over the past year I have seen their posts on Facebook and discovered that 3 of the 9 are openly polyamorous.  This is a surprisingly large number because only 5% or less of the population identifies this way and a great many of those are closeted and wouldn't discuss their relationships on Facebook for fear of retribution.  Also some of the 6 rarely post to FB so I have little information and I haven't asked anyone directly about it.

I had a vague suspicion that one of the 3 poly people was poly at the time, but it was nothing more than a suspicion.  The other two were a complete surprise - not that they did anything to suggest otherwise, but rather I received no information at all.  I don't think this is a case of me having some sort of poly radar.

It makes me wonder about the correlations between various character traits.  It makes lots of sense that the people I would like at a convention would have similar political leanings, we clearly have the same hobby, and I might also share values on things like religion.  What I don't know is how much these other things correlate to being polyamorous.  Are political lefties more likely to be poly?  I would suspect so since left wing parties would tend to be a lot more accepting of their lifestyle but I certainly can't offer convincing proof of that.  Left wing politics and polyamory are also both correlated to higher education, and I tend to like talking to people who have been in school forever, so that could be a factor also.

I would also expect a correlation with atheism or agnosticism because religions tend to push traditional family structures.  Not all of them do, and not everywhere, but there is a trend for sure.  People who refuse to listen to authority seem more likely to independently reject religious orthodoxy and mononormativity too.

Before I came out as poly I thought that there were hardly any polyamorous folks around.  Now I know so many!  I wonder how much of that is tapping into new parts of the web of humanity that lean that way, and how much is an actual shift in the number of people being poly and being open about it.  The news is constantly putting out new articles about polyamory so people are more aware, and acceptance is increasing.  Clearly both of those things are changing my social network, but I honestly have no idea how much of the changes I see I can attribute to each.

I don't develop an instant liking for anyone who is poly, that much is certain.  I joined a bunch of Facebook groups over the past few months centered around polyamory and I left the great majority of them while clutching my ears and moaning "No, not like this."  The only groups I stayed in were ones that were built around my social web, so I certainly gravitate towards people that share my values more generally.

Of course I must end with the note that this could quite easily just be entirely random.  The sample size is obviously quite tiny so I can't draw sweeping conclusions.

Also if you happen to be a person I met at WBC and you are polyamorous feel free to send me a message because I am curious if there is more to this trend than I know!  (I won't discuss names publicly, obviously, unless you want me to.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

An unnecessarily happy ending

I saw the movie Chappie this weekend.  It was a bad movie that managed to entertain me despite its badness.  Throughout most of the movie I would have deemed it quite fun indeed, but unfortunately the ending really fell to bits.

Chappie is about a robot called Chappie in the near future who acquires self awareness and begins to rapidly learn, growing up from unable to speak or understand anything to functioning roughly like a teenager within about 5 days.  Chappie is involved with criminals and desperately violent makers of war robots so there is some action involved too.


A lot of the time when people try to write science fiction movies I end up being really disappointed by them.  I don't mind preposterous assumptions as long as the movie makes those assumptions clear and then writes a good story that makes sense afterwards.  Chappie was normal in that regard because the way that Chappie acquires consciousness is unrealistic and the rate at which Chappie learns is ridiculous.  However, the story of a robot growing up and trying to cope with the terrible conditions it finds itself in worked for me.

The problem is that the movie should have ended tragically.  Chappie and most of the humans surrounding it should have perished.  There was only one reasonably sympathetic character in the movie to my mind and it still made sense for him to die the way the story played out.  However, that doesn't happen.  The plot instead calls for Chappie to personally discover the secret of completely learning, digitizing, and transferring consciousness from body to body, including from human to robot.  This way instead of everyone dying in a savage battle most of the main characters get to have stupid and unsatisfying resurrection scenes at the end of the movie.

I can cope with resurrection scenes, but when you just randomly tack them on to the end of a movie it cheapens everything that went before it.  A character's heroic death suddenly isn't much of a thing when the writers randomly and without foreshadowing simply bring them back to life.

There is also the problem with the visuals.  A lot of the scenes in the movie involve using computers and mostly they manage to make it look reasonable.  Some hacker movies can't stop themselves from having the hackers manipulating giant 3D constructs when 'writing code' and Chappie at least avoided that... until the consciousness mapping part.

Apparently you can look at a digitized consciousness as an animated image, and it looks like a pixellated random colour map on a computer screen.

I know you want the characters and audience to see *something* when the main character suddenly acquires the ability to replicate human and robot consciousness, but having it randomly be a splatter of colours with a constant shimmy to it just makes me cringe.

The movie could have been so much better if either the foolish and unnecessary consciousness mapping was removed or if it just didn't work and all the characters died in the end.  A tragedy would have been infinitely better than the Deus Ex Machina (seriously!) mess that comprised the denouement of Chappie.

It is just sloppy.  Tell me what bullshit I have to believe for the story to work, then write a good story.  Don't get halfway through and then decide to make up a bunch of new bullshit to desperately scavenge an acceptably happy ending out of a story that shouldn't be that way.  The best science fiction explores what happens in a world with a twist, it doesn't keep adding twists until the story can be turned into pablum for the masses.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to be sad

Two weeks ago I wrote about a youtube video describing techniques to make yourself sad.  It contained 7 guidelines to making sure you stay as depressed and down as possible.  It was a refreshing change from happiness tips, because you can easily see what to do to reverse the advice and it added a little bit of humour on top.

I am reading the book How To Be Miserable:  40 Strategies You Already Use.  It is much the same sort of thing, just more thorough.  Since 40 is greater than 7, you know.



The book covers a wide range of things you can do to make yourself unhappy.  It starts off with the most obvious and powerful one - exercise.  Don't get any!  That is extremely effective at staying miserable.

It moves on through a variety of techniques from making sure to compare yourself to the most skilled person in the world at any given thing, setting your goals to be vague, amorphous, pie in the sky, irrelevant, and delayed, to maximizing your screen time.

You will also learn how to have exacting standards for the people you will associate with, especially if those standards are written down and specific enough that you won't find anyone who will meet them all.  If you do meet anyone, the book will tell you how to make everything you do with them into a pointless contest with defined winners and losers.

For example, the book directs you to "Dwell on how wonderful that old bohemian apartment of yours was - or that relationship, that job, that city, that sparkling halcyon time in your life - and remind yourself that it is now over.  You have lost it forever."

How To Be Miserable is written by a psychologist who specialises in treating things like depression and it clearly comes from a place of experience.  The author says (and I agree) that it isn't meant to be a cureall for someone with serious mental health issues, but it could be a useful gentle reminder for people to make the changes that they know they need but have forgotten about, or perhaps let people see their own behaviour and realize that perhaps it isn't the right way to live.

The book is a quick read and has enough humour in it that even if you don't get much out of it in terms of fixing your life you will likely enjoy it just on its own merits.  However, I think that even if you don't actually use the advice within, it will give you some moments of clarity where you recognize yourself in this book of truly terrible advice.

Most books are worth reading once and then are fine to return to the library.  This book is different though.  I think it warrants a place on all kinds of bookshelves where it can be found and quickly read through every few years.  Even people who are aware of how they might make themselves happier can use a reminder every so often and this seems like a fine way to get it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Showdown at the playground

This past Saturday I helped run the Fun Fair for Elli's school.  I was the volunteer coordinator, which means I was the one panicking when half of my volunteers either didn't show or showed up late.

On a related note, damn teenagers.  I had eight of them signed up to help for the whole day to get their volunteer hours to graduate high school.  They all confirmed they would be there from 8 until 2.  Now, being the realistic person that I am, I assumed they would be late.  An hour late, say.  At 8:30 the first teenager rolled in, a couple more arrived at 10:30, and several didn't get there until 12:30.  Then they acted like nothing was wrong, and said "Oh... but I didn't know when it started....."

Yes.  You did.  Because I got you to confirm specifically that you were going to be there from 8 until 2.  I have it in writing!  ARGHERKHGH.

Anyway, despite teenagers being incredibly unreliable we got great weather and had enough people to make the thing work and overall it was a successful endeavour.  The children got to spend a ton of time standing in lines in the hot sun for bouncy castles and fair food, and for some reason they liked this.

All that stuff was predictable.  Obviously scheduling volunteers for an event like this will be a disaster, and obviously teenagers will sleep in and be unreliable.

What surprised me is how close I got to getting in a fistfight.

Fistfights, for the record, are not usually a feature of elementary school Fun Fairs.  Although if they were we could rope them off and probably bring in a lot more people... <scribbles notes furiously>

During the Fair one of the people running the bouncy castles for us who worked for the bouncy castle company came up to me and asked for my help.  He was scared, he said, because one of the people at the Fair was getting aggressive and shouting at him.  He wanted me to help.

I wandered over to the man he pointed to, and instantly I realized that the man was kind of drunk.  Drunk Guy looked at me in a way that made it clear he knew I was there to fuss at him and he was immediately defensive.  He was sitting down so I crouched down to talk to him in the hopes of keeping him calm, but Drunk Guy quickly stood up and launched into a tirade about how terrible the bouncy castle person was.  The basic story came out that children were trying to leap over the edge of the bouncy castle, the employee told them to stop, and the Drunk Guy was angry about this.  He demanded of the bouncy castle person "Do you work here?" which is actually kind of a tricky question in this circumstance, and the bouncy castle worker walked away, which enraged Drunk Guy.

Drunk Guy then proceeded to yell at me about how terrible it was that someone walked away from him.  He yelled it at me several times to make sure that I knew that it was terrible.  He was obviously worried about being kicked out and had nothing useful to say in his defence.  He got really agitated and started demanding that I agree with him that the bouncy castle person was way out of line.

I wasn't at all sure what to do.  Obviously Drunk Guy was being a shithead and it was all his fault, but it wasn't clear to me how I should handle the situation.  Should I tell him he had to leave?  Would that result in him taking a swing at me?  Should I yell at him and hope to intimidate him into shutting up and leaving?

In this sort of situation size and intimidation are key pieces of information.  Drunk Guy was close to a foot shorter than me and lightly built, so barring him having combat training I rate to be able to toss him out physically without any trouble.  But obviously I don't want to actually fight anyone if I don't have to.  Being that much bigger than another man in a showdown tends to make them defensive and keyed up, but it does mean that they are afraid of actually throwing a punch.

I decided to do what I normally do in this sort of situation, which is to just stand there and listen but adamantly refuse to get excited or angry.  I let him spew his nonsense at me for awhile until he had repeated it all a couple of times and I never really engaged with it.  Eventually my refusal to escalate at all seemed to wear him out and he stopped telling his story and demanded to know if I was going to kick him out.  I hadn't even had a chance to answer that when he said "Hah, I knew you couldn't kick me out!" and turned and wandered away from me.

Something deep inside me *really* wanted to yell "Buddy, not only do I have the authority to kick you out, but if you don't do as I say I will toss your ass over the fence myself!"

But that probably isn't a good idea.  Deeply satisfying in the moment, makes a good story to tell the grandkids, but not a good idea nonetheless.

So I just stood there and watched him wander off.  I kept a really close eye on him for quite awhile, figuring that if he gave anybody any more trouble I would have to make a scene, but Drunk Guy seemed determined to behave himself after that.

I think what happened was he realized that he was in a terrible bind.  If he escalated the conflict with me he stood to 1.  Look like an asshole in front of hundreds of people.  2.  Lose a fight.  3.  Get arrested.  But he desperately didn't want to back down and apologize, so he settled for pretending that he won the argument.

Everybody knows that when you are in a staredown with someone as part of a yelling argument and you mumble quietly about how you won and walk away while the other guy glares at you... you lost.  But by fussing about how I couldn't kick him out anyway he clasped his tattered dignity to his chest and got out of there.  Shortly thereafter he left the Fair, so the problem went away on its own.

I am glad it was me that had to deal with that.  All the other people running the event were women of much more moderate size than me and I don't know what he would have done if they had shown up to chastise him.  It might have gone better potentially as maybe he got more aggressive because I am a man, but he might well have decided that he could just trample all over them and/or threaten them.  I am quite sure that I was the one who would be least upset about that sort of confrontation, in large part because of the lack of fear of what would happen if he decided to get physical, so I am glad I was there and that I was the one who got the call to deal with it.

I do wish I knew if I dealt with it correctly.  Hell, I don't even know if me going over to him at all was productive.  I know that I don't want to let people be assholes like that, especially because of the possibility that this had a racial bigotry element to it.  (The Bouncy castle worker was a person of colour, and Drunk Guy was white.)  However, it might well be that me going over to him was really what got him wound up, and I escalated just by being there.

My suspicion is that an intimidating stare combined with the stubborn refusal to get angry or excited was the right way to handle the situation, but again I don't know.  Sometimes people really want other people to share their emotions and they get angry when that doesn't happen.

Delivering a lecture on his drunkenness, his entitlement, or his aggressiveness would have been satisfying, but probably counterproductive.  And yet I really want him to understand why he fucked up... though likely that is impossible in the state he was in.

I can say for sure though that I am glad for the training I got in sales surrounding these situations.  The more times you have to practice coping with someone who is frothing mad while maintaining professionalism the easier it gets and the less scary it is.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The 4 hour bullshit

I got The 4 Hour Body, a book about how to make yourself superhuman by using all kinds of tricks.  It is written by Tim Ferriss, who got famous primarily by writing The 4 Hour Workweek, a book about how to make lots of money only working 4 hours a week.

I am not going to link it or show the cover because I do not want you to buy or read this book.

There are things in The 4 Hour Body that are true, and other things that are good.  The book is aimed at straight men, and part of the 'be amazing at sex' section is a bunch of stuff about how to focus on women's pleasure during sex, and even a bunch of stuff on performing clitoral massage without the masseuse involved having any sort of stimulation at all.  Convincing straight men to think about this stuff is good!  I like it.

But much of the rest of the 'be amazing at sex' section is rubbish.  It follows the pattern of the rest of the book, which is that Ferriss talks about how you can do magical things just by taking some supplements or eating a particular food.  Become irresistible sexually!  Heal like Wolverine!  Pack on muscle in ways that are literally impossible without sewing meat onto your body!  A pack of lies and nonsense packaged in a pseudoscientific shell is most of the book, complete with links to help you purchase the products he recommends.

On the other hand Ferriss does provide a really useful critique of many of the issues with mainstream science publishing including issues with methodology that you should watch out for.  This stuff is actually totally reasonable and there is a lot of information on how exactly experiments and data can be twisted to show things that aren't really there.  This is useful information and surprisingly better written and informed than I expected.

But then he concludes that instead of actual science you should trust his personal experiments where he randomly does stuff to himself and then draws broad conclusions from that single data point.  The fact that 'I did a bunch of weird stuff all at once and saw changes anecdotally so my hypothesis must be true!' is far *worse* than the other crimes of science that he talks about seems to have escaped him.

You can find useful things in the book if you are hunting for them.  He talks about vitamin D, and I realized that I often don't get much sunlight.  I have since been spending time reading in the sun on my balcony regularly and that seems like it will be enjoyable, even if it has no effect on my health.

But then he goes and talks about how you can put on 34 pounds of lean muscle in 28 days with only 4 hours spent in the gym.  Just eat this handful of supplements and get HUGE INSTANTLY.

Hint:  If people could put on 34 pounds of muscle in a month by eating random supplements half of the population would already be doing it.  You can't, they don't, it is bullshit.

Honestly what it comes down to is Ferriss is selling a pipe dream.  People want instant answers, effortless gains, magic pills.  He tells them that they can become magicians, if only they follow the proper incantations and rituals he has written down.  He forgot to include eye of newt and feathers of a cockatrice but other than that he might as well have been selling spells from Dungeons and Dragons for all the good it will do anyone.

It bothers me.  I get why people want answers, and they want to believe that there is hope.  After traditional methods have failed, surely it is good to believe that there is some way forward, a hidden path to utopia that has been so far overlooked?

Maybe there is, but Ferriss isn't the one who is going to find it.

If you want to find the things that Ferriss does well there are other books that will give you the same information without the hype and the snake oil pitch.  Go out there and find them.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sludge

I have been eating protein powder for a month or two now and it is kind of a silly routine.  I get my morning glass of juice, dump a ton of white powder into it, stir it up as best I can, and chug it down.  I often get chunks of powder about the size of a M&M in the juice so it certainly can't be said that it goes down smooth.  After I empty the glass there is inevitably some powder left on the inside of the glass so I refill the glass with water to try to get it completely clean.  After all, I paid for that damn powder, I am not going to waste it!

The water never works perfectly.  I end up with a glass with a bunch of gray protein sludge slimed around the inside of it and I just scoop up the sludge with my finger and gulp it down.  What could be better than gray slime with the occasional chunk of crunchy powder left in it?

This does not bother me.  I seem to have been born with a lack of appreciation for texture in food.  Most people place a great deal of importance on mouth feel and how things tickle their tongues, whereas I would generally be perfectly content to grind my entire dinner up in a blender and shovel it all in with a spoon.  More efficient that way!

I can tell what the textures are.  My nerves work fine.  I just don't *care*.

Yesterday I watched a youtube video about weightlifting which was talking about rookie mistakes that wannabe bodybuilders make.  One of the big ones was protein powder.  The guy making the video laughed about how when he first tried protein powder he put it in his orange juice!  How absurd!  How foolish!  What a noob!  The commenters agreed, and they shared a great laugh at how silly a person must be to do such a thing.


And this was my drink this morning.  I wasn't even using orange juice, which at least can dissolve things marginally well.  Oh no, I was trying to dissolve powder into V8.  I mean, not trying exactly, since I know for damn sure that it won't work.  V8 doesn't dissolve much of anything.  Mostly I was just trying to find something better than straight up shovelling powder into my mouth with a spoon.  Because that, it turns out, is actually a problem.

Apparently everyone else eventually figures out that you need a ton of material to dissolve your protein powder into, and a blender to smash it all into an enormous shake.

Screw that!  Washing a blender every damn day?  Never gonna happen.

I am going to keep on leveraging my extreme lack of food texture reaction and shoving that sludge into me through my morning drink, even if it does mean that I remain forever a noob and have to face the internet mocking me with 'bro, do you even lift?' meme pictures.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A new way to say

CGP Grey is a Youtube creator who makes all kinds of videos that straddle the genres of comedy and documentary.  He manages to make things like the exact political arrangement of the UK or the ways that different voting structures work really interesting and fun to watch.

Today he put out a video about how to be miserable.  It is 7 pieces of advice on how to get yourself on the path to misery and stay there, ensuring that you avoid common pitfalls that might accidentally fix things and make you happy.



We all know the common advice that is tossed around on how to be happy.  Get out there, do things, get exercise, sleep well, eat healthy, etc.

Somehow hearing all of these things described in reverse is really powerful.  Grey talks about making sure you have a varied sleep schedule, never going to bed at the same time and being sure to wake up in the afternoon sometimes and the morning other times.  He discusses setting unrealistic and vague goals that you know you cannot accomplish to be sure you don't accidentally finish them.

I know all this stuff, but somehow having it pitched in reverse was really helpful.  I haven't had a good sleep schedule lately and I have been trying to make up for it by napping.  It has been a disaster, as waking up at 7:30, getting Pinkie Pie off to school, and then trying to nap at 9:30 has not worked at all and has only led to me being tired all the time.

People saying "Just get a good night's sleep!" has been pointless, but Grey describing how I should vary my sleep schedule a bunch and be random about it, especially avoiding doing the same thing 3 days in a row because that sets a pattern that is easy to stick to got my attention.

Sometimes all you need is for somebody to tell you to do exactly what you are already doing so you can realize how silly it is.

2 men running

Yesterday I decided it was time to run.  People in my life have been telling me that it is silly to do so much upper body strength training and ignore my legs.  I think they are worried that I will look ridiculous with scrawny chicken legs and a giant torso.  That is kind of what I was aiming for, but they are right that varying my exercise regimen is a good and healthy thing.

I started out doing a 5k run and it was a weird experience.  Running hurts.  Maybe once you are in really good shape you can run 5k on some reasonable hills without any discomfort but I sure am not in that kind of shape!  Director does not like pain.  Pain is annoying, and sign that I am doing something wrong.  Passion, on the other hand, likes pain.  Part of that is simply that when I am Passion I am full of adrenalin and I don't feel pain much, but the other part is that when Passion is in charge pushing through pain is actually *fun*.  It is a challenge, a thing to slam myself against.

Running was a combination of many different feelings.  I got a really heavy lidded sensation, like my world shrunk down to just me and the ground in front of me.  There was kind of a fiery red tint to everything and strangely it wasn't like my actual vision was affected but rather that I could see colour properly but my perception of the world was red tinted and full of heat.  I don't quite know how to explain red as a thing that isn't a colour and heat as a thing that isn't a temperature, but that is what happened.

When I got to a stoplight I just sat there waiting, and when the light changed I snarled and charged across the intersection.  Director was sitting back, not running things, curious if Passion would be tired and take his time or just rush ahead.  The snarling was a bit of a surprise to Director and also possibly to the people who were also waiting on the street corner.  It isn't the first time that has happened; I remember snarling and acting oddly bestial at points during my mud run last summer.

The combination of being entirely in the moment, of being consumed by the desire for more punishment, more pain, more challenge, but also being entirely detached and watching myself from a distance was certainly odd.  It is classic dissociation - being outside myself, watching my body do things without being in it, but being in it simultaneously.

It is a hard thing to explain to anyone who hasn't felt that way.  Reading what I wrote it sounds as though I am perhaps dangerous or out of control but that isn't at all the case.

Director *can* exert control at any time and be normal, be a single perspective, be the sort of person people expect.  I just feel so much better when I actively pursue opportunities for Passion to manifest and just let him do the things he wants.

Finding safe or even useful outlets for that unboxing of the beast is a good thing for my mental health for sure.  I need it, because it somehow quiets Passion, removing the struggle for supremacy.  After Passion has had a chance to be out it is like he is a cat, purring in the background, radiating happy vibes.  And when there is no chance for him to come out he is pacing, always pacing, being a constant distraction.

And now my legs feel sore.  I think I will need to give myself a couple days to recover and then I will go again.  Hopefully I can keep that routine up and get myself into the groove of running regularly.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

One plus one

When I arrived at university there was a trick some upper year folk played on the frosh.  They knew that we had high school math sorted out but most of us were still quite intimidated by the prospect of university math so they told us that the real math we were going to learn had stuff like this in it:

x^2-x^2=x^2-x^2
x(x-x)=(x+x)(x-x)  (factoring, which we knew worked)
x=x+x  (cancelling same terms on both sides)
1x=2x
1=2

The idea behind this was to leave us all dumbfounded that high level university math proves 1=2.  Of course the problem with all of this nonsense is that you can't divide both sides of an equation by (x-x) to cancel the terms because dividing by zero is not allowed.

I don't remember if I figured out right away what the problem with the equation was.  I do remember that I was sure that there was some kind of simple trick and I just had to figure out what it was.

Because obviously 1 does not equal 2.  (Incidentally, I am anti axiom of choice, if it matters.)

But sometimes 1 does equal 2.  Just not in math, only in humans.  This week I finally reached a new benchmark in my quest to look like Chris Evans; I am now twice as strong as I was when I started lifting weights.


I am ... not there yet.  That man is too pretty for words.

But I can bench about 280 pounds, which is double what I could at the beginning, and close to the goal I set for the year of getting to 300.  When I started out I figured I would just lift weights and I told Wendy that I wasn't going to start chugging protein drinks and doing steroids, nothing crazy... just regular ole hard work.

It turns out that regular ole hard work only gets you so far.  Eventually you realize that you have plateaued and you need to do other things to continue along the path.  First I started eating eggs, tons of them, in an attempt to get more protein in.  That helped.  Then I upped the frequency of workouts to 5-6 times a week, and that helped.  A month ago I decided that it was just too much of a pain in the butt to eat all those eggs, and moreover while I need a ton of protein but I don't actually need all that food, it is kind of wasteful, so it was time to buy protein straight up.

Now I am chowing down on protein powder every day.  Although my methods of measuring progress are inaccurate at best it seems to have helped.  I am increasing in strength at roughly the rate I was back in the beginning in terms of pounds / week, and I think I am packing on mass at a similar rate.  That second metric is a tricky one as I don't actually have a bathroom scale so I only check my weight a couple times a year.  Best guess is I have increased my mass by 10% or so.

That I can lift twice as much while only being 10% heavier feels strange.  I know that most of my mass is in organs and bones and such that don't contribute meaningfully to strength but I still look at my body in puzzlement wondering how it can do these new things without actually being all that different.

I am definitely not going to start doing steroids though!  Initially I was not into the protein powder thing because I felt like it wasn't pure somehow.  But that is silly; there is nothing unhealthy about protein powder and it helps my body repair itself faster when I have beat myself up.  Since I am in the business of beating myself up I had best help my body fix itself.  Steroids are a totally different thing of course because they have actual negative side effects that are terrifying.

I do totally get how people end up doing steroids though.  It is that progression and plateauing thing again.  It feels so good to be making gains, doing better, putting up bigger numbers.  Each plateau sucks, and each new step that pushes you back into big gains is wonderful.

After years of changing your diet, buying protein, focusing your life around effort and pain, is it so hard to imagine that you might take another step to regain that feeling of progress?

In the past the idea of using steroids was unthinkable and I couldn't figure out why anyone would, barring being in serious competition for cash like the Olympics or professional sport.  But lots of random people use steroids who will gain nothing from it financially and that always puzzled me.  Not anymore though.  I get it.

Still not going to take that step, but I understand those who do.

It kind of blows my mind when I look at world bench press records to think that after all the work I have put in I am still only benching 26% of the world best.  People do some pretty amazing things.  So do drugs and special equipment, of course.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to get into an internet flamewar

Recently I was a witness on the sidelines to a big internet fight about the name given to a particular sort of dance competition.

People fight on the internet about everything!

This was a fight about calling a dance competition a Jack and Jill competition, rather than calling it a Random Partner competition or something similar.  That's what Jack and Jill is; a dance competition where you dance with random partners rather than a partner you brought with you.  I suppose it has the advantage that you don't have to have an established partner to go, which is nice, but I suspect for some people it is more comfortable to compete with a known person.  In any case, it is a format that exists.

Now you might well think that changing Jack and Jill (which is spectacularly nonspecific to outsiders) to something more descriptive would be an easy sell.  Sure, some people will be sticklers for tradition, but it hardly needs an internet flame war.

The trick is why it was being changed.  A lot of people felt uncomfortable with it because of the gendered names, and because traditionally men led, women followed, and men and women paired off with each other specifically, and Jack and Jill reinforces that.

There is a swell of change pushing through our society as a whole to get away from enforced gender norms, heteronormativity, and anti queer bigotry.  Dance is just a microcosm of society in this.  While you might see two women dancing together, you will still see a lot of straight guys standing around treating it like the only purpose of those two women dancing is to provide them erotic entertainment.  While you will see two men dancing together, you will still see other people act as though they must be gay (and that there is a problem with that) and people will distance themselves from it.  While there exist spaces where queer people can dance and be relatively comfortable, a lot of places aren't anywhere near there yet.

Just like the rest of society, really.

So when the change to Jack and Jill is billed as a way to be more inclusive of people, especially trans and queer people, it gets a ton of pushback.  People get angry, because it isn't just a name of an event, it is an attack on their entire life.  When you say "we should be more inclusive" people hear "you are acting like a bigoted asshole" and they react accordingly.  Much as some might try to soften that blow, a lot of people are being bigoted assholes, and that being pointed out angers them.

So they fight.  They yell about liking their tradition, about liking the role they have, and not being run over by the rainbow steamroller.  The crazy thing about the fight is that people often pretend it is all about the name of the dance.  They act as though Jack and Jill is critical to their life experience and calling it a Random Partner dance would destroy them.

Let's face it though:  The name of the dance is small beans.  If the community was a happy joyful place for queer people of all stripes the name Jack and Jill would be a tiny issue.  The real problem is all the other stuff, the bigotry, the sexism, the enforced gender roles.  But since the organizers of a dance community can't change those things directly they change things like dance names to try to send a message about the direction they hope to go in.  The dance name becomes a proxy war for all of the other fights that are going on because it is a simple, concrete thing for people to argue about.  It is hard to fight about men treating two women dancing together as erotic entertainment because it isn't usually happening when the argument is going on.  The exact behaviour you want to change is hard to pin down, hard to define.  But a name!  That you can be precise about, and that makes it a perfect thing to trigger a fight that is really about larger changes in society.

This is much like the fight about trans people using bathrooms that is completely ridiculous and is just a signalling issue; a way for bigots to signal other bigots that they are suitably bigoted.  It is an actual concrete thing they can use to rally all the people who are upset by cultural change they can't quite grasp.  It is really tough to fight about a gradual shift in the acceptance of people wearing non gender conforming clothing.  Who do you yell at exactly?  But a stupid rule about bathrooms or the name of a dance, now there is something you can rally around!

It all comes down to people feeling like they have a choice between being angry or feeling terrible.  When you tell someone that they have to change, that their behaviour has been hurting people, that they are wrong, they either must accept that their education and actions and beliefs are wrong, or they fight back.  Most people don't want to feel terrible about all their choices and doubt their heroes and mentors, so they fight.

You can soften the blow.  You can try to change dance names to Random Partner without saying why you are doing it, and claim it is just for clarity to try to make it easier on newcomers.  You won't get a fight that way.

But fuck that noise.  When you make good changes like getting rid of Jack and Jill you should tell people why you are doing it.  Many of them will fight you on it.  That will be wearing and shitty and sad, but eventually they will get crushed by the rainbow steamroller.  Everyone does, in time.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The way I work

This past week I noticed something that I should have known but which never really hit me viscerally before.  I saw a really powerful trend between the amount of sleep I get and my ability to do my workout.  Intellectually I am aware that sleep is good for basically everything, both physical and mental, and I have the experience of sleeping badly and being kind of shit at everything but lifting weights has really brought home how important it is.

Seeing the numbers in front of me and doing exactly the same thing day after day really makes it clear how much worse I am when I sleep badly.  A good sleep means I push through the workout fast and feel good.  A crap sleep means I barely manage to scrape by and need long breaks, and when I finally do finish I end up sitting in my chair stunned, unable to do much of anything.

Knowing a thing intellectually is really different from looking at my arms and wondering why they suck so much today.  I can apparently keep the concept of sleep repairing my muscles in my head at the same time as the concept that my muscles are a sort of fixed thing capable of fixed tasks regardless of the other conditions of my life.  Only when I am forced to confront them together does it manage to fix my perceptions to align with real life.

I really should know this stuff by now.  I am middle aged!  How is it that I have not properly sorted out how sleep (a thing I have done fairly often at this point) affects my strength?

I also had an amusing awakening about just how my body is shaped.  While I know what I look like in a mirror I apparently have no idea how I compare to other people.  The Flautist, the Mathematician, Wendy and I were talking about a party I am going to and I suggested that I might go in drag.  Both Wendy and The Flautist gave me a look that said "Yes please and also YOM" and it made me wonder what exactly it was about a dress and fishnets on me that would get them so wound up.  I still don't know, but I was certainly intent on running with that ball and so I tried on some dresses.

Somehow in my head Wendy isn't that much smaller than me.  I was primarily concerned that her dresses would hang off my because I lack breasts, and her dresses need to have plenty of room for breasts, for reasons.  In my head I was wondering about stuffing a bra to be able to wear her dresses in some reasonable fashion.

But my lacking boobs was not the issue.  Rather it was that the dresses couldn't possibly get on my body.  Most of them simply couldn't go on at all, even fully unzipped - I would have torn them to shreds trying to get them on.  I managed to get a dress on that had spaghetti straps on top, but the zipper was a good 20 centimeters from closing properly.  I didn't need a corset to fit into them, I needed a wood chipper.

I don't feel that much bigger than Wendy.  I know in a visceral fashoin that I am a lot taller but apparently my body is a whole category larger and I didn't even realize that.  It felt so weird to be facing down that difference when it is someone I am so totally familiar with.

I *should* know exactly the difference between Wendy and myself, should I not?

Apparently I don't.

It turns out I can wear some of her skirts just fine, but anything that has to a torso on it is right out.

In the past there have been situations where I thought going out in drag might be fun but I haven't ever done it.  I looked at the price of size 12 high heels and almost threw up, and honestly finding anything that would fit me in a flattering fashion from the women's clothing section is going to be both extremely difficult and super expensive.

It turns out that fishnet stockings are one size fits all, so I will probably end up just wearing a kilt, a dress shirt, and fishnets.  Not drag, exactly, but it is the closest I am going to get for the moment.  For those that are curious, I do not intend to shave my legs for this adventure.  Even if it could get me some really "Yes please" type looks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Topless

I got a bad sunburn when I was in Hawaii, the worst one I can remember ever having.  I am all past the shedding skin phase of recovery but my shoulders are still mottled and itchy somehow, a sign of long lasting damage I assume.  Getting burnt that badly was a stupid thing to do.  So why did it happen?  Why did that mistake occur?

The first reason is simple carelessness.  I put on sunscreen three times and wore a sunshirt a bunch, but I was out in the middle of the day for six hours in a tropical climate when I was coming from Toronto winter.  I should have been way more cautious than I was.  I know that sunscreen washes off, and I was too cavalier about that.  I didn't think I was being aggressive or silly about my exposure though, I just didn't realize how bad it would be.

None of that is interesting.

The interesting part is why I wasn't wearing my sunshirt the whole time.  I paid for the damn thing and hauled it to Hawaii, surely I should have worn it the whole time, right?  It would solve this problem!

I suppose it is because I have a weird relationship with clothes, swim clothes in particular.  I hate them.

Hate!

It seems to me that when a person is going to dip themselves in water the silliest thing in the world is to cover themselves in a garment that will just need to be dried and cleaned afterwards.  Swimsuits just get in the damn way and exist because we as a society have stupid issues with genitals and breasts.  (There are times when people wear swimsuits for warmth, sun protection, or structural support, fine, but generally they are worn because of foolish taboos.)

Swimsuits are, to me, a physical manifestation of the idiocy of our collective horror at the human body's more sexual bits.  That breasts are included on that list while male nipples are not is its own foolishness which I won't belabour here.  It doesn't bother me that other people might feel like covering up when they want to swim - they are welcome to swim in a red top hat and three piece suit if they like but as long as wearing clothing to swim is mandated by law swimsuits anger me by their necessity.  Clearly I have issues with swimwear.  I hate that other people are forced to wear it, I hate that I am forced to wear it.

I like looking at people's bodies, people of all sorts.  I got tattoos because I want to trick my body out with cool pictures for the world to see, and I have been working out like crazy because I want to get big muscles and look hot.  I want to have a body that people like looking at in return, whether or not that attention is sexual.  I like being naked, and I especially like swimming naked because I love the feeling of water gliding over my body; it is like a lover's caress.  Interfering with the freedom and joy of that by binding myself up in swim clothing just feels deeply wrong.

All of this makes my sunshirt a sad thing.  So I wore it, because I did not want to burn, but I did not wear it enough.

It is odd, really, because wearing the shirt almost made me feel guilty.  Like I was betraying my principles somehow.  I was caught between the desire to not be damaged by the sun and the desire to live the life I want, joyous and free of the tyranny of clothing.  How can my brain feel guilty and wrong at wearing a stupid sunshirt but simultaneously self destructive and reckless for not doing so?  Surely there must be some way that will satisfy me entirely.

Just writing all this makes me feel strange.  I think it makes me seem vain and foolish in equal measure.  I have written many things before about the hardest moments in my life, things that I felt shame about, and yet this thing is being hard to put down.  I like the way I look now.  I still don't feel entirely right about my body, largely because when I look at myself I see my acne highlighted, marks on my body that I am sure no one else can ignore, but I do feel far better about myself overall than I ever have before.  I like the changes that pain and sweat and money and ink have wrought.  I want to be able to show that off, and yet I feel wrong for saying so, like admitting that I kind of like the way I look is a terrible thing to do.  It is as though the only ethical thing I can do is say that I don't like myself.

All five adults there in Hawaii on my trip had body image issues.  Too fat, too thin, not enough muscle, bad complexion, breasts too large or too small, etc; this is how we see ourselves.  The world would look at the five of us and think "wow, that is a pretty attractive group of adults" and yet that doesn't stop us from being down on ourselves when we look in a mirror.

Of course everyone else managed to be clever enough to avoid serious sunburn, despite any uncertainty they may have about how they look.  Perhaps they have more sense than me.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Low but increasing utility

Pinkie Pie is good for something.

Of course young children can potentially be good for happiness or fulfilment but the data we have suggests that although parents routinely claim that their children make them happy that isn't actually what happens.  The outrageous baby giggles and artwork brought home from school are great moments to be sure but they get weighed down by poopy diapers, exhaustion, and screaming at your child to go to sleep at two in the morning.

But yesterday Pinkie Pie was measureably useful, not in a fuzzy happiness way, but in a concrete, verifiable way.  I was making dinner and realized I had forgotten to buy tomatoes for the meal.  I needed one can of crushed tomatoes, so I told her to go to the store and get them.  I wrote it down, and described the can I needed, and even gave her an amount - 16 oz.

This was a mistake.  I actually wanted a 28 oz can, but I misremembered the size of the can I wanted.  Pinkie Pie was clever though, and when she found the crushed tomatoes in the store she saw a can of the size she remembered me using before, and she correctly decided to buy based on her memory and judgement instead of my explicit instructions.

This pleased me inordinately.  Equal parts of my pleasure came from the physical usefulness of her fetching the thing and her judgement in getting the right thing.  In times gone past she would have been unable to complete this task or perhaps she would have returned home in tears because she couldn't fulfil my instructions to the letter.

An appropriate decision tied to a simple act of service - I am easy to impress, it would seem.

It struck me today how ridiculous this whole thing is.  In times gone past parents would get children to be useful.  Gather sticks for the fire, watch the chickens, sweep the floor.  Even very young children can do *something* useful.  But children these days are basically useless until they are teenagers, and are certainly a net resource drain until their early twenties on average.

Even today when we were building a side table from IKEA Pinkie Pie wasn't a help.  She helped, and was enthusiastic about it, and I think that is important so she can learn the skills involved.  But I would have done it faster if I had just done it myself.  It is a fine thing that she was part of the building but she still isn't bringing any net utility to the project.

I wonder how long it will be before I shift my mindset to consider her as a container of usefulness when a random thing has to be done.  We aren't there yet - emergency trips to the store aside, everything she does would be easier for me to just do myself rather than explaining, supervising, and checking afterwards.  Someday though I will surely think of her as a potential resource, someone I can rely on to make things work.

Not yet though.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A stern talking to

Yesterday I went to a job / volunteer fair at a local high school.  I was recruiting student volunteers for an event at Pinkie Pie's school, and was quite successful in that.  Beside me at the fair was a pair of people representing a summer camp that needed students to work at it as counsellors over the summer.  The two people representing them were a man and a woman, and while the woman did a reasonable job talking to prospective student employees, the man did some things that really bothered me.

His method of talking to students involved calling to them loudly, rushing up to them, and then aggressively trying to sell them on working for his company.  During the conversations he repeatedly smashed his fist into his other hand making a loud noise and leaned in close to them, looming over the students he was talking to.

This presented two problems for me.  The first was that the students were clearly intimidated and sometimes upset by him and it was clear that he was getting no traction in terms of actually getting them to work for him and they were unhappy.  The second was that the students obviously felt pressured by his hard sell tactics and as soon as they broke free of him they fled, rushing past my spot at the table so I had no chance to speak to them.

I wasn't sure what to do.  My brain looked at this from two independent perspectives:  A feminist one and a sales one.  Large men really ought to keep in mind that being loud, physically aggressive, and pushing in too close to people is a real problem.  It is especially so when dealing with young women who are socialized to try to placate angry men.  It wasn't that he was *trying* to be intimidating, as I watched his behaviour when there were no students about and he was constantly bashing his hands together as a nervous sort of thing and was clearly agitated about his lack of success.  Intimidation wasn't the thing he was aiming at, but it was definitely the thing he was accomplishing.

I wanted to call him out on his behaviour, but it is a tricky thing.  If we got into a disagreement about it I doubt anyone else around would have backed me up, as he wasn't doing anything outside normal aggressive sales tactics.  I know what I saw was not good, but if I all I can accuse him of is whapping his hands together, talking loudly, and standing close to people to speak I don't see anyone official siding with me.  I would not expect that conversation to go well even if nobody else stepped in, especially because he would desperately want me to shut up so he could get back to his job.

I thought about couching my criticism in terms of sales technique.  That would be less likely to get his back up and I might be able to make him see what he was doing, or so I thought.  The fact is that if he just relaxed, kept his hands at his sides, and didn't lean in so far it would be far more comfortable for the people he was talking to and would have been far more likely to get him the results he wanted.

Perhaps "Hey dude, I have some sales techniques that might improve your odds" would go over better than "Hey dude, you are being an asshole".  I don't really know though.

There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive and you are far better off staying on the assertive side of it for most applications, and perhaps I could have made that point.  Unfortunately right as the session was winding down he and his partner grabbed their stuff and took off before I had a decent chance to try to bring it up.

This sort of thing is tricky for me to evaluate.  On one hand the individual incident really isn't so bad.  The guy wasn't hitting anyone or screaming at them.  And yet his attitude and lack of awareness really speak to a deficit of understanding of what male aggression does to society, women in particular.  This one guy changing his way of relating to the world might be a small thing, but all men changing in that way would be a huge thing.

Being a good feminist and being a good salesperson aren't really things I would expect to find in alignment, but sometimes strange things happen.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Evil President, Round 2

The French presidential election is drawing to a close, and it is down to Marine Le Pen, a right wing nationalist, vs. Emmanuel Macron, a more centrist candidate.  There are a lot of people looking at this thinking that it is a rematch of Trump vs. Hillary, business as usual vs. blame the foreigners, xenophobia vs. consensus building.

In some ways it is, of course, but the polls are in a completely different place.  Macron was ahead by 26 points just a short time ago, and his lead currently is 20 points.  People are worried that Le Pen will do what Trump did and sneak in a victory despite polling behind.  News sources are of course spinning that chance as hard as they can because it is far more interesting to say that the unlikely is possible than that the likely is, in fact, likely.

I can see why some people would be worried, but it is almost entirely an illusion.  The experts mostly said that Trump was going to lose.  There were reputable sources putting his chances at 1%.  But he was only 2% behind in the polls.  48-46 in polls is not that far behind, and in fact he ended up losing by 48-46 but won the election anyway because of the complexity of US voting systems.

However, Le Pen is not losing 48-46.  She is losing 60-40.  The difference between those things is outrageous.  Everyone who looks at polls knows that they are going to miss by a percent or two.  That is inevitable.  But missing by 10 points is ridiculous.

The trouble is that people don't actually understand numbers and the math behind polls and predictions.  They listen to the 'experts' on TV or in print and hear that Trump is rated to lose and Le Pen is rated to lose and think that those are equivalent when in fact they aren't even in the same ballpark.

There are so many problems that lead to this false equivalence.  For one, polling and odds making groups aren't perfect.  They ask the questions that will give them the answers they want, shape their methods to tilt things their way, and hunt for results that confirm their biases.  Odds makers do similar things, for similar reasons.  They are by far the most reliable part of the chain though, because the news sources that report information and analysis are horribly biased towards a good story even if it has nothing to do with the truth.

Just as it is hard to get a scientific paper published if you say "We learned that an obscure technique doesn't actually work" and easy if you say "We have developed a new way to cure cancer!" it is tough to get into the public eye by saying "Too close to call" when you can come up with "The underdog has closed the gap and threatens to win it all!"  The supposed experts spend a lot of time twisting the numbers to suit their purposes and that makes it really hard for the random person to know what the real deal is.

That random person is a problem too though.  They don't understand the math well enough to recognize that 60-40 and 48-46 aren't even the same ballpark.  They aren't even going to understand the math, so they have to rely on experts, and since all the experts are just saying what they think will get views or which supports their biases the average person has no idea what is going on.  We are stuck in a place where people are terrified of things that aren't going to happen for reasons that make no sense.

Now of course either candidate could, in the next week before the election, declare a longstanding habit of having sex with dogs, or perhaps an intent to use nukes on Canada.  That one of them completely botches it and the odds shift is possible.  But when the polling is as horribly one sided as it is right now (thankfully in the right direction) it would take something really massive and unexpected to change the result.  Could it be that Le Pen ends up with 42% of the vote?  Sure, that is well within the margin of error.  51%?  Hah!

I would love it if I could educate random voters on these topics, but I suppose if I am hoping for impossible education I should probably start by teaching them about how voting for people like Trump and Le Pen is contrary to their desires and interests, rather than educating them about how to properly figure out the odds that such a leader will end up running the show.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Too much sun

I am back from my trip to Hawaii.  It was a trip with many firsts involved.  My first time off of continental North America, Pinkie Pie's first time leaving Ontario, my first time doing proper snorkelling in fish filled waters, and even my first experience with jet lag.

It is funny sometimes to talk to people about travel, and have them assume that everyone is familiar with how jet lag feels.  Up till now the largest time difference I can recall being involved in a flight of mine is merely 1 hour, not enough to even notice.  Hawaii is six hours off though, so it should have had quite the impact.  That didn't end up being the case particularly, as I adjusted both ways quite easily.  I felt it though, a little at least, and now I know what that experience is like.  Before I felt a little out of place responding to some comment about jet lag with "no, in fact I don't know, because I have never experienced it" and having the whole room stare at me like I had grown horns.

There is an assumption about travel that a lot of people make, namely that if you don't travel immense distances you must hate travelling for some reason.  I am not the most wanderlust filled person around, that much is clear, but my reasons for not travelling have generally been financial and environmental, not so much a hatred of travelling itself.  I struggle with the cost of long trips and the environmental cost of travel really gets to me.  I find it hard to square my desire for a low impact life and the almost vulgar cost of flying a quarter of the way around the globe for entertainment.

Those things make for awkward conversations.  I find that people love to go on about how wonderful travel is, but they can rarely justify it from an environmental standpoint.  Certainly they can justify the monetary cost, and honestly the price often seems absurdly low... it is just my money demon that makes it hard for me and I know that is irrational.  But the cost in waste and carbon that comes with long distance travel people just ignore, and I find I have to do the same.  When I consider it I find I have to simply ignore it and accept the cognitive dissonance; my other choice is to never travel and I don't like that option either.

However, other people also seem to actually like the travelling part.  They talk about liking being on planes.  I find the concept quite ridiculous as to me planes are constantly uncomfortable leaving my legs in a perpetual state of pain and strain.  I can't rest, I can't sleep, I can't relax.  Being tall is generally a good thing, but not on a bloody plane.

Not in economy class, at any rate, and I can't see myself in the rich person seats.

All that aside the trip itself was great.  I took a snorkel tour to a partly submerged volcanic caldera, swam around with schools of fish, got to watch a group of three sea turtles eating off of a reef from a distance of just three meters, and spent a ton of time in the sun.

Too much time in the sun really since I got myself a savage sunburn, probably the worst I have ever had.  It wasn't as though I ignored the danger, as I applied sunscreen three times and wore a sunshirt for much of the day, but it turns out going from Toronto winter/spring to Hawaii and then spending six hours on a beach was too much for my skin to cope with.  Thankfully the pain was not enough to stop me doing all the things, and was merely extremely unpleasant.

I don't know that I will go back to Hawaii.  It was a fine place to have gone, and now I know the best way to spend your time on Maui, but I think I lean towards staying closer to home for a variety of reasons.  Bloody airplane seats being built for midgets being the big one, for sure.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How I met your parents

I have met the parents of someone I am dating four times.  One of those was under strange circumstances and wasn't really a 'meet my parents' sort of thing, and another was short circuited because I met the parents long before the dating even began.  If memory serves, I met Wendy's parents at her wedding to her ex husband... though I suppose I really wasn't interviewed quite the same way in that circumstance.

The first time I met someone's parents in a more traditional sense we had the issue of religion.  They were religious while I am ... not.  That sort of thing can be a real strain, especially when you consider the person in the middle who is caught between declaring for either side in that debate.  No choice is going to be easy.  That said, we pushed through and it was generally fine.

This past weekend was the second 'meet the parents' event (with The Flautist) and religion wasn't an issue this time.  However, there is a new issue - polyamory.  Specifically, when your daughter says to you "Oh, I am dating a married man now.  His wife is totally okay with it, I promise!" there is a certain amount of skepticism that is normal and reasonable.

In my case everyone *is* totally okay with it.  It is all open and honest and good.

But even then, if Pinky Pie came home someday with that story I would be suspicious.  If it turned out that the relationship did follow that formula I would be perfectly happy with it, but let's face it:  There are a lot more married men cheating on their wives than there are poly married men having honest relationships.  The numbers do not favour the poly guess, in general.

Most people wouldn't append the story "and I met his wife during my first date with him and we got along great and went to a concert together without him" though, and that certainly adds a lot of credence to the story.

The fact that the people I was meeting had totally valid reasons to doubt my morality gave me some doubt.  I didn't figure I would have to cope with accusatory stares and veiled accusations, but these are people I don't know.  I wasn't at all sure what would happen.

But it was all good.  I chatted with both of them for awhile, talking about work, chores, relationships, and the difficulty of getting paid for creative efforts.  Then I had a good ole fashioned debate about energy policy, politics, and voting systems.  I am sure that everyone would tell me to stay the hell away from politics when meeting the parents, but since when have I ever backed down from that sort of thing?  I did carefully check to make sure nobody was getting upset about the debate, but I really think it was an entirely friendly affair.  It helped that we have similar political leanings, though of course we disagreed on the details of implementation.

All in all though it went as well as meeting the parents ever can go, I think.  I suppose that generally if people decide that they really need to get along despite having some pretty big differences they can make it work, and that certainly has been my experience so far.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What does google know

Google knows I want to get ripped.

To be frank, Google knows an awful lot of what I want.  When I talk to Wendy about the rats involved in her research my internet is full of ads for exterminators.  Close one Google, but no cigar.  But when Google pitches me ads about getting ripped abs it is on the money.  I have been amping up my exercise in general but also particularly adding on stomach exercises.

Wendy told me that getting bulky isn't really a good thing.  In fact she thinks my shoulders look worse because I actually have a bit on muscle on top of them now.  But a six pack, that is the ticket.  So I am doing more tummy exercises in a fruitless attempt to amp my abs.

Here is the thing about Google's abs ads, when targetted at me.  They all say "Men over 40 are getting ripped abs doing this one weird thing!"

Sorry Google, I am 38.  Hell, you *must* know that.  You know everything else!

But then I ask myself:  Are the ads showing grey haired men with preposterous abs aimed at men in their 30s too?  Is the idea to shame me into buying stuff because men older than me have sculpted bellies?  Maybe they aren't aiming the "Men over 40" nonsense at me by accident, but rather deliberately.

I followed the stupid ads today, wading through 45 minutes of crap to finally get to the payoff.  What is it, I wondered, that these snake oil fraudsters with their immaculately built bodies are trying to sell me?  Pills that do nothing?  Steroids that do something, but also many wrong things?

Nope.  After 10 minutes of bragging, 10 more minutes of vague generalities, 10 minutes of insulting every 'conventional' diet and exercise regimen, and 10 minutes of complete pseudoscientific nonsense about optimizing your hormone levels via carefully guarded secrets, I finally got to the 5 minutes of real stuff.

Which was just a diet and exercise program.  Apparently the most ripped 24 year old on Youtube and his personal doctor have an amazing, groundbreaking program that will activate my hormones, blast away my belly fat, and make me into a monstrous beast of a man.

They seem to be leaning on new, shocking techniques like "Eat a lot of meat for protein and vegetables, and don't eat sugary crap" and "Exercise hard using multiple muscle groups".

All of which will activate my leptin and testosterone hormones and give me a stomach that will cause random scantily clad women to fawn over me.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind that whole fawning thing, at least for a bit.  However, I was honestly expecting a lot more from all that build up.  If you want to convince me that your program is all that, you really ought to come up with something a lot more interesting.  If all I get is generic pablum of exercise advice I really don't need to pay you for it.  Their advice doesn't even look bad, it is just backed up with endless prattle that is a pack of lies surrounded by half truths.

But damn, there are SO MANY ads for this garbage.  They must be getting a lot of people to buy into it.  That part makes me really sad, because I was willing to watch 45 minutes of trash on the side of my screen while working on something else because I was curious about what the final pitch was.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people who believe this nonsense and end up handing over their money.

Just one more moment that makes me weep for humanity.