February 13, 2014

When did “Child Find” morph into “Missing Persons”?

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

Some of my utility bills come with return envelopes (yes, even in this day of internet banking, lots of bill payments still go through the old-fashioned mail system). At least one of them uses the back of the return envelope to print Child Find alerts, with a photo and information about the missing child. This seems like a good idea, although the most recent example seems to be a bit of a stretch:

Child Find envelope

First, the information says that the missing child was twenty years old when last seen … have we officially decided that childhood lasts into the twenties? Second, the missing person has been missing for a pretty long time — since 1988 — and it seems unlikely that this photo will have much more than a casual resemblance to her current appearance (assuming that she’s still alive, of course).

February 6, 2014

He’d have gotten away with it, except for those pesky girls

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Being shy can be a handicap for certain kinds of activities. It can prevent you from doing things you might otherwise want to do. Shockingly, however, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal doesn’t think that you should get special treatment just because you’re afraid to be the only guy in a class full of women:

Sexual politics have erupted again in Toronto’s ivory tower as another male student has lost a bid to be excused from a class with women without losing marks, this time because he’s shy.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by University of Toronto student Wongene Daniel Kim, who accused his professor of discriminating against him as a male when she docked him marks for not coming to class because he was too shy to be the only guy.

The second-year health science major arrived at the opening of a Women and Gender Studies course for which he had signed up in the fall of 2012 — “It had spaces left and fit into my timetable” — only to discover a room full of women and nary a man in sight.

“I felt anxiety; I didn’t expect it would be all women and it was a small classroom and about 40 women were sort of sitting in a semicircle and the thought of spending two hours every week sitting there for the next four months was overwhelming,” said Kim, 20, adding he manages a part-time job with women because there are also other men.


However the tribunal ruled his complaint did not warrant a hearing.

“The applicant has not satisfied me that his claimed discomfort in a classroom of women requires accommodation under the (Ontario Human Rights) Code,” wrote adjudicator Mary Truemner. “He admitted that his discomfort is based on his own ‘individual preference’ as a shy person … and stated he thought they (the women) would not be willing to interact with him because of his gender.”

This was “merely speculation as he never gave the class, or the women, a chance,” wrote Truemner, vice-chair of the tribunal.

Kim had no evidence of being “excluded, disadvantaged or treated unequally on the basis of” his gender, she said.

H/T to Joey DeVilla who posted on Facebook, “Way to perpetuate the feckless Asian nerd stereotype, Kim. After all the work I did dispelling it!”.

December 13, 2013

No regerts

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

I really missed out on a great long-term investment when I didn’t put all my retirement savings into a tattoo removal chain:


H/T to Joey DeVilla for the image.

December 9, 2013

Proving (again) that any moron can do well at “fantasy” sports

Filed under: Football, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 11:21

An excellent week for my picks in the Ace of Spades HQ fantasy football pool at Yahoo! That’s still a relatively big lead for the player who has been top-of-the-rankings from week 1, though:

Fantasy Football Ranking 2

November 20, 2013

An app like this may justify the existence of Google Glass

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

I have a terrible memory for people’s names (and no, it’s not just early senility … I’ve always had trouble remembering names). For example, I’ve been a member of the same badminton club for nearly 15 years and there are still folks there whose names just don’t register: not just new members, but people I’ve played with or against on dozens of occasions. I know them … I just can’t remember their names in a timely fashion. David Friedman suggests that Google Glass might be the solution I need:

I first encountered the solution to my problem in Double Star, a very good novel by Robert Heinlein. It will be made possible, in a higher tech version, by Google glass. The solution is the Farley File, named after FDR’s campaign manager.

A politician such as Roosevelt meets lots of people over the course of his career. For each of them the meeting is an event to be remembered and retold. It is much less memorable to the politician, who cannot possibly remember the details of ten thousand meetings. He can, however, create the illusion of doing so by maintaining a card file with information on everyone he has ever met: The name of the man’s wife, how many children he has, his dog, the joke he told, all the things the politician would have remembered if the meeting had been equally important to him. It is the job of one of the politician’s assistants to make sure that, any time anyone comes to see him, he gets thirty seconds to look over the card.

My version will use more advanced technology, courtesy of Google glass or one of its future competitors. When I subvocalize the key word “Farley,” the software identifies the person I am looking at, shows me his name (that alone would be worth the price) and, next to it, whatever facts about him I have in my personal database. A second trigger, if invoked, runs a quick search of the web for additional information.

Evernote has an application intended to do some of this (Evernote Hello), but it still requires the immersion-breaking act of accessing your smartphone to look up your contact information. Something similar in a Google Glass or equivalent environment might be the perfect solution.

Proving that any moron can do well at “fantasy” sports

Filed under: Randomness, Sports — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

I’m actually doing quite well in the Ace of Spades HQ football pool at Yahoo this year:

Fantasy football ranking

October 27, 2013

Cupcakes are “butter-iced snares of self-loathing”

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

I’m not actually much of a fan of sweet concoctions, so the cupcake revolution swept past without leaving much of an impression on me, but from what I hear they’re still undeniably popular. In the Guardian, Matt Seaton isn’t impressed:

Cupcakes look absolutely fabulous, of course … in photographs, on e-commerce sites, in shop windows and in expensively beribboned boxes. But have you ever managed to eat one without either getting frosting on your nose or ending up with sticky slime between your fingers? They’re the edible equivalent of ultra-fashiony high heels: great to look at, ridiculously impractical.

And like heels, borderline masochistic. Why? Because cupcakes are very obviously a terrible food choice.

Now, anyone who knows me and my industrial-scale chocolate habit will be ready to yell “hypocrite” here. But I’m not preaching abstinence from treats. What irks me about cupcakes is that, for their implied young female, figure-conscious, on-off dieting customers, they set up this horrible dynamic of enabling indulgence in a forbidden object.

You know what cupcakes really are? — butter-iced snares of self-loathing that sell precisely because they exploit young women’s insecurity about their looks and identity, and offer a completely false and self-defeating solace of temporary gratification, almost certainly followed by remorse and disgust.

H/T to James Lileks for the link.

October 22, 2013

Dahlia Lithwick on smelling like a teenage boy for a week

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

It’s not just a scent … it’s a lifestyle:

When I first told my husband that I was planning on wearing only Axe men’s products for an entire week, his answer was a foreshadowing of things to come: “You’re planning on wearing that stuff to bed every night for a week? Man. Axe really does work. It’s only been a few minutes and look, you’re already single again … ”


Despairing of any kind of social response that wasn’t either threats of a formal legal separation from my husband or subtle nostalgia from mothers of former Axe users, I decided to trot out the stuff at the last night of Slate’s annual retreat in September. Having sprayed it liberally all over my body on the night of the big promlike party, I watched my roommate — Slate’s Dear Prudie — actually flatten herself up against a hotel room wall and slide uneasily down the hallway, in the manner of that poor cat being chased by Pepé Le Pew. Almost immediately upon my arrival at the festivities I was accosted by three female Slate colleagues who spontaneously observed that I smelled completely amazing. I was briefly thrilled at the enthusiastic response, until I realized that I didn’t really want my someday teenaged sons to ever be quite that amazing-smelling to women in their 30s and 40s. One colleague said it brought her right back to whatever it is that happened in the back of a truck when she was herself 14. The silence was slightly less awkward than after the pants-spraying story the week before.

October 19, 2013

Amusing maps – US population distribution in units of Canadas

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness, USA — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

You can find the most interesting things on Twitter. Here’s @Amazing_Maps with a map of the United States divided up into units of Canadas:

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggenate

October 15, 2013

QotD: Duties of a good host

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Up to a point (i.e. short of offering your guests one of those Balkan plonks marketed as wine, Cyprus sherry, poteen and the like), go for quantity rather than quality. Most people would rather have two glasses of ordinary decent port than one of a rare vintage. On the same reasoning, give them big drinks rather than small — with exceptions to be noted later. Serious drinkers will be pleased and reassured, unserious ones will not be offended, and you will use up less chatting time going round to recharge glasses.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

October 13, 2013

Schools with anti-bullying programs more likely to produce bullies

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

A counter-intuitive study result from the University of Texas – Arlington:

Anti-bullying initiatives have become standard at schools across the country, but a new UT Arlington study finds that students attending those schools may be more likely to be a victim of bullying than children at schools without such programs.

The findings run counter to the common perception that bullying prevention programs can help protect kids from repeated harassment or physical and emotional attacks.

“One possible reason for this is that the students who are victimizing their peers have learned the language from these anti-bullying campaigns and programs,” said Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT Arlington and lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Criminology.

“The schools with interventions say, ‘You shouldn’t do this,’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that.’ But through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is and they know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers,” Jeong said.

The study suggested that future direction should focus on more sophisticated strategies rather than just implementation of bullying prevention programs along with school security measures such as guards, bag and locker searches or metal detectors. Furthermore, given that bullying is a relationship problem, researchers need to better identify the bully-victim dynamics in order to develop prevention policies accordingly, Jeong said.

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

October 3, 2013

The Bystander Effect in Philadelphia

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing talks about an incident in Philadelphia where a transit police officer was losing a fight with a suspect, yet none of the people came to the assistance of the cop or even called 911:

The fact is that a certain number of citizens aren’t going to come to a cop’s defense simply because they’ve seen too much abuse occur at the hands of cops. When law enforcement struggles with an arrestee, they’re not too shy about bringing in several more officers to help out, or just sending an attack dog after them. They’re also in possession of several more weapons than most citizens carry — including pepper spray, batons, tasers and guns.

The odds are stacked in favor of police officers. When one is suddenly unable to avail himself of all the weapons at his disposal, police leadership seems to think the public should jump in and save their “heroes,” or at least call 911.

Over at PINAC’s writeup of the event, the oft-arrested/hassled photographer Carlos Miller points out why that’s a bad idea.

    I admit I would be the one video recording, not necessarily because I wouldn’t want to help the cop, but because pulling out my camera and recording is very instinctive for me, while dialing 911 is anything but.

    In fact, my instinct is to avoid calling 911 at all costs because I don’t trust police enough not to turn me into a suspect when they arrive, which we have seen happen numerous times in the past.

Beyond the chilly relationship between citizens and cops are further factors, legal and otherwise, that Chief Nestle isn’t considering when he expresses his shock at the public’s inaction.

First, there’s the Bystander Effect. Very basically, the more people present in a situation, the less likely that someone will offer aid. Two factors that came into play during this beatdown are empathy and the “diffusion of responsibility.” Many people simply don’t empathize with cops, even when a citizen has gained the upper hand. This disconnect leads directly to less altruistic behavior. The more someone empathizes with the victim, the more likely they are to respond. Judging from the majority of the comments under the news report, it’s very unlikely that any crowd would be filled with empathetic individuals.

September 20, 2013

Not “lovingly crafted”, but made with craftsmanship

Filed under: Business, China, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Sippican Cottage posted this the other day, and I have to admit I was vastly impressed with the skills of these workers:

That workshop has nothing that I don’t understand going on it it. It’s a very safe place to work, although the State of California would tell you that every single thing in it is known to give you cancer. But they say that about a glass of tapwater. The finish that the woman’s applying is shellac, which you can eat after is dries, and the glue pot is filled with hide glue, which is just horses that came in last, and most of the tools make wood shavings, not sawdust, and the sanding is done by hand, so the sawdust isn’t copious or particularly dangerous. No one in the video is missing a digit, or has any visible scars from working with their hands all day. They all have fans pointed at them, but that’s no doubt because it’s too warm for comfort wherever they are. That place is not full of toxic fumes. You’d pay money to smell the smells in there. Shellac and hide glue and wood shavings smell wonderful. I hear laughter in there, and people smile when a camera is pointed at them. It’s a sheepish smile I understand. They are not used to people being interested in their mundane life. No one is wearing safety glasses or ear protection, and no one needs them, either.

No one is LOVINGLY CRAFTING anything in the video, although the violins they make will be sold for huge money in Europe, and the customers will be told that their violins were… LOVINGLY CRAFTED. But then again, no one I’ve seen in five thousand LOVINGLY CRAFTED videos have one-tenth the hand skills I see demonstrated by everyone in the video. It’s important work to them, so they do it to the best of their ability. People that do things over and over get really good at them. I wish them all well — and hope on my best day, I’m as good as they are on their worst.

September 15, 2013

Sippican Cottage and the start of his welding career

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

All I can assume is that my RSS reader needs a good, swift kick every now and again because this post from Labour Day just showed up in my reader now …

I needed a job, bad, in LA, 1980-ish. I moved there with next to no money and no plan. I was only old enough to drink because they hadn’t changed the law yet. I’d had a dozen jobs or more already. No one was hiring nobody for nothing nohow. If I see another person compare today’s economy to the Depression I’m going to show them a picture of 1979. When a mortgage on a house reaches 17%, unemployment is right around 30% in the construction industry, and inflation looks like it’s going to touch 20, you get back to me. Car companies did more than just talk about going bankrupt back then.

I was sleeping on the couch in an apartment shared by two girls, neither of which I knew then or know now. You can distill painful shyness into a kind of brazenness if you try real hard.

The only job opening I could find was a classified for a welder. I had welded under a microscope before, so I was prepared to say I was qualified. A ship in a bottle is still a ship, right?

I drove 66 miles dead east from LA to get there. Outside the place looked like Ingsoc owned it, and inside it looked like Beelzebub was renting it. Medieval. A metal corrugated roof in the desert. The concrete block walls could just barely hold in the amount of crazy required to be a welder in there.

It was a terrible job and the pay was about the same as begging in Calcutta or maybe a dental assistant in England. There were — I remember because they told me — 135 people there that day applying for the job. There was a person sitting on every horizontal surface you could see making out an application. I was the only one wearing a suit and holding a resume. They took me out of the scrum, up the stairs, gave me the man what are you doing here act.

I lied. I lied like a politician. I lied like an infomercial. I lied like four hundred sermons played backwards. You bet I can weld your thermocouples. They sent 135 people away that very minute.

(to be continued)

I switched the Sippican Cottage RSS feed to NewsBlur instead and this story really does continue…

You couldn’t get an apartment in LA without a bank account and a job. You couldn’t get a bank account without a fixed address. I couldn’t get a job without an apartment. I can’t remember who was governor of California at the time. It might have been Jerry Brown or maybe George Deukmejian. At any rate, Franz Kafka was actually running the place. I picked a day, and simultaneously told the apartment landlady I had the job, told the bank I had the apartment, and told the job I could TIG weld thermocouples all the live-long day, baby. The Million Pound Bank Note is just a short story to you; it’s an instruction manual to me. You guys should read less Rand and more Twain if you want to get on in this world. By “less Rand,” I mean “no Rand,” and “all Twain,” actually.

August 5, 2013

Memories of the Alexandr Pushkin

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

Elizabeth sent me this link, saying “this video kind of gives a feel to the whole experience”. I asked her to write a bit about her trip on the Pushkin:

I’ve never visited a communist country but I got a real feel for it while travelling on this ship. I was twenty-two and going to live in England for a year.

Before embarking, I was given labels to put on my baggage. Cabin luggage was to be marked “Cabin” and other stuff was to be marked “Storage”. As I already had my storage stuff delivered earlier in a steamer trunk, the only luggage I had was marked “Cabin”. Imagine my surprise to find no luggage in my cabin. A tiny cabin with a small toilet/shower and handbasin with a porthole blocked by a ruddy great North American car. I went down to the Purser’s Office to enquire on where my luggage was. A grim looking pair were managing the booth and after checking the records the conversation went thus:

Them: “Your luggage is in hold”

Me: “But I had it marked ‘Cabin’”

Them: “No, it marked ‘Storage’”

Me: Can I have it delivered to my cabin?”

Them: “Is impossible”

Me: “Why?”

Them: “Hold cannot be opened when ship is sailing”

Me: “All my clothes are in there”

Them: (shrug)

Me: “What am I going to wear?”

Them: (more shrugs, waves me off)

I spent nine days wearing two sets of clothing and three pairs of underwear. Luckily, a kind young lady at the same dining table lent me a sweater and spare underwear and even more luckily I had a washroom in my cabin to handwash through the clothes I had just worn (most cabins didn’t have attached washrooms).

The ship was full of students going to Europe to study. The crew of the France had gone on strike and had forced many of the students to take the Pushkin instead. The crew hated us. We were a ship full of under-thirties who drank, played cards and liked rock’n’roll music — everything the Russian crew were not allowed to do. Three days out on a nine-day journey, the booze ran out. As the students were not real heavy drinkers and still getting their sea legs (the smell of vomit on the lower decks was awful), I suspect the crew or the senior officers had absconded with the alcohol.

We had a “talent” night where we had to listen to the crew perform Russian dances and folk songs. When it was the students turn, four or five had brought their guitars with them and started playing rock music. The audience was getting right into it singing along, clapping and dancing to the music when the Russians stomped onto the stage with “enough!”, “no more music”, and shut the performance down.

While playing pinochle one day, I met a young Scotsman from Long Niddry. He had just spent the last five years in the lumber camps of B.C. and to prove to his father that he wasn’t a layabout, he was bringing his car back to Scotland as a trophy of his success. Yes, it was his huge North American car strapped to the deck outside my porthole. How he proposed to drive it around the streets of Edinburgh, I have no idea.

And so, we spent nine dreary November days going from Montreal to L’Havre and then to the Tilbury docks in London. If the students had had rotten fruit they would have thrown it because on docking at L’Havre we were berthed alongside the France. The boos and catcalls were loud and I’m sure the people on the pier were wondering what the problem was.

This is my personal recollection of sailing on the Alexandr Pushkin. So much for the “queen of the Russian cruise ships”.

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