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.