Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thoughts on Paperless Workflows

So, a friend of mine read a previous post where I talked about what was in my bag on any given day, and he commented on my stack of index cards. He pointed out that I have a smart phone, and that presumably any sort of note I would need to take could be taken on my phone, which is true, and that just about everyone I know could be left a message using my phone, either through facebook or SMS or email, which is also (generally) true.

Thing is though, as fantastic as my phone is, it can't do everything I need it to do. Data entry is slow, and inaccurate. Sometimes, like when I need to sketch something out (like a flow chart), it's downright clumsy. And a lot of the index cards therefore wind up being for me. As a matter of fact, my pockets, including the pockets of my backpack, my blazer, or any other garment I'm carrying wind up full of index cards by the end of the day. And postits. Numbers scrawled onto thermal printer slips. You're starting to get the idea.

There's a really good reason for that. Like I said, some data doesn't lend itself to rapid-fire digital entry when you have a brain that works best with a keyboard and stylus, when all you've got are your thumbs. What's more, some social situations simply don't allow you to pull out your cellphone and jot down a quick note. Me updating statistics in a performance tracker at work looks an awful lot like texting to my clients, and my co-workers do more than enough of that for the whole store.

Even above that, I don't trust digital. Granted, 90% of the time, something I choose to write down on index cards is a triviality - a name I needed to remember for a few hours or a handful of stats that are going to be digitized later. The other 10%, though, winds up being at least tangentially important, and often what is tangentally important doesn't get digitized at all... enter the stack of books, top left.

I have a weakness for stationary, and my love of fine pens has already been discussed. Accordingly I tend to collect quite a few notebooks, and while some are very good and others are mediocre, I've come to learn just what I want and where to find them. There are a few constants, partly due to the forcings of what people give for gifts and partly due to habitual purchase. MOST of the books in that stack are either moleskines, or hardcover PaperBlanks that have the right level of tooth.

They have their uses. As a general rule I try to keep the numbers down, if only because I never seem to totally fill a book before I destroy it (yes, even the skines).

Paperless is good. A reduction in waste is good, which is why I'd like to find an alternative to index cards (there's an electronic scratch-pad for $30 at Coles which shows some promise), but notebooks don't go to waste. I reference older stuff all the time, even just for lulz.

The Radical Notion of Dissent

Creative Commons Image
A recent article by the CBC brought my attention to the fact that both CSIS and the RCMP have put it into writing that "environmental radicalism" is on the rise, without sufficient detail into what constitutes a radical.

Radicalism is a strong word, and it implies a number of things that are antithetical to the environmental cause, and to a proper sense of morality at large.

For the most part, I've been uninvolved in the latest environmental snafu's to make waves in the Canadian Media, because I've been focusing (in that regard) on my two pet projects: a sustainable alternative housing proposal for the provincial legislature, and shelling out the framework to be able to talk about Nuclear Power (and a possible proposal for the legislature in that regard as well). Some of these projects have taken years because the relevant data is industry-limited and difficult for the general public to get access to. But that's not the point.

The environmental issues Canada is facing are nothing new, even if the locations are. We've known Hydrofracking was questionable technology for years, but we employ it anyway. We've known oil pipelines have risks that border on criminal liability, but we construct them anyway.

I don't believe you have to be a radical to dissent on those points.

This all reminds me of the occupy movement, which might have been one of the most overblown protests of all time. Millions of people worldwide, stopping in their tracks and skipping shifts in order to protest corporate corruption, but able to present no tenable solution or do much more than air their grievances and lose their minds when they're removed from public property in month three of the protest.

I recall a friend of mine involved in the local occupy who was furious that he was arrested for spraypainting some graffiti on the park steps in front of two police officers. As far as I know, he still considers that to have been protected speech under the Charter. He's wrong of course, but that's not going to stop him, nor is it the point.

This generation seems to have a pretty low bar for what's considered radical. Sabotage, now that's radical. Not that I'm calling for sabotage.

This trick, of labelling opposing views as "radical", is nothing new, though the extent to which it's being deployed lately in my neck of the woods is. Seems to me like ever since the conservative party took the PMO, anything that involves a change (apart from "staying the course") is labelled as radical. We must do better, and we can do better, and we will do better.

It's one of the great things about this country; every four years we get to overthrow the government.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Equality's Truest Sense is Blind

One of the things I always liked about "managing by spreadsheet" was that I can look at such digital schedules and scorecards without having any idea what the face is for the name. Sure, you get the odd tip-off to statistics you don't care about, like demography, if you're tracking by name, but "Alex Watson" could be a man or a woman of just about any race, age, or religious differential. It means that you have only merit upon which to evaluate people, and the practice of judging solely on merit is the most admirable and fair-handed practice one can employ in dealing with people.

Being born at the turn of the century I have had the remarkable experience in growing up in an age of melting borders, in one of the most diverse countries on the face of the earth, and in an age where understanding is the means and stereotypes are no longer an end. I was born just early enough to understand the Racial Profiling issue in the post-9/11 atmosphere even as it was being discussed, and I was born just late enough that even my small town and the surrounding towns were populated on a mixed level, rather than the single-racial image we are presented in the televised media. I grew up hearing people in the mall speak Punjab, learning French in school, babysat in a Korean Restaurant, exposed at once to the foods of any of nineteen different nationalities, exposed to the history of any of a dozen, and interested in (to date now) the history, language, of culture of any of a half-dozen more.

I was not raised with race as an issue, because it shouldn't be. Morgan Freeman is famously quoted for saying the best way to end racism would be to "stop talking about it", and while I can't say I grant his premise I can certainly say I understand it. I don't look at a person's skin colour and make assumptions about their behaviour, because in this day and age I know more white people who "act black" and more black people who "act white" than any stereotype that could apply. People are just people, and they act according to the dictates of their personalities and values.

I never even understood some the stereotypes that I encounter because they are overblown. "Asians are the best at math" doesn't make sense to the kid in grade 6 who was doing math on the high school level. I don't need to be told that "Germans are precise" when the two ethnic germans I know are no more precise, orderly, or "uptight" than anyone else I know in their age group. I identify more with the phrase "terrorists are to islam as the KKK are to Christianity" than with the phrase "Islam is a religion of the sword". Women are not "more artistic" when you surround yourself with artists, nor are they "less athletic" when you observe the practice of athletics.

The more you understand about people in general, the more you understand they do not come in flavours. Men, women, blacks, whites, hispanics, asians, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jainists, Zoroastrians, heterosexuals and homosexuals are all just people. We all want the same things in life and we all find our own way toward them, and if we are going to engage in the futile exercise of trying to judge people (for what purpose I deign not to specifity), we should do it for that. For the things we choose, rather than the things we are. For the way we behave, rather than the way we were born.

I hate to keep cribbing Aaron Sorkin, but he said it best when he said this. "Now that we have abandoned discrimination in our laws, it's time that we abandon it in our hearts and minds as well."

Friday, July 27, 2012

All Opinions are Sacred, Except Those That Aren't

I sometimes have difficulty talking to people who haven't worked in a kitchen. Being a professional cook is a lot like cooking for a 70 person dinner party, and everyone is arriving at different times and wants different things. You have to juggle multiple trains of thought at once, and if you can't do that, you simply won't keep up.

Chik-Fil-A, which I understand to be a fried chicken chain (I really haven't spent all that much time south of the border), is the subject of a recent boycott by some on the left after their president made a statement, while stalking to a religious reporter, no less, that they supported the biblical order of marriage. Film at eleven.

In seriousness, such a statement, made inside a church, isn't exceptionally rare. Neither is the position, within churches, that marriage should be of the biblical variety. The only reason this became an issue is that the speaker has what passes for notoriety in the States, and that, for the most part, the entertainment media leans left (in contrast to every other business, which inherently leans right). Cue an uproar. Chik-fil-A is anti-gay! Film at eleven.

Thing is, Chik-fil-A hasn't actually done anything wrong. They do not discriminate (on protected grounds) in hiring or in service. President Dan Cathy wasn't necessarily speaking for the entire company, and even if he was, there's nothing wrong, legally, with what he said. The problem with this particular boycott is that it is the result of a difference of opinion, which I suppose is ultimately true in all cases, but this particular difference of opinion is predicated upon an unwillingness or inability to understand the opposing point of view.

To the boycott-supporters, I can only say that you're fighting this one stupidly. Taking the things that people honestly believe on religious grounds and bigotry is fine. You're allowed to do that, both here and in the US. The problem is that it doesn't work. You aren't going to change minds. You aren't going to pursuade anyone. You're just going to piss them off and set their heels more firmly into the muck. This has to be made clear: you must frame the issue properly.

There is a fear, a palpable fear, whenever any ground is lost, that the Churches will somehow have to change their teaching in order to coincide with the new laws. It must be made clear that this fear is unfounded. "Congress shall establish no law establishing a state religion or abridging the freedom of religion", I believe is the line. Religious Marriage and Civil Marriage are two different but often entangled things. The church marries you spiritually, and the marriage licence marries you legally. That's all gay marriage is. Civil marriage.

To the others, as is said, I disagree with what you are saying but will fight with my death to defend your right to say it. I hold that the old covenant has been fulfilled (as we are taught) and that includes the abolition of homosexuality. For those who insist that homosexuality is still a sin, I have a few questions, and must nod generously to Aaron Sorkin.

My mother-in-law is thinking of auctioning off her daughter as permitted in Exodus 21:7. She's special to me and if anyone's going to own her I'd rather it was me. What price should I offer? My team lead insists on doing work on the Sabbath; Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death - do I have to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? There are 90,000 people in this city: do they all have to gather to watch me be put to death for planting different crops side-by-side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing clothes made from two different threads? And one more thing: you like shrimp, right?

While we all have generally forgotten that morality comes from within and justice comes from without, I want to make it clear that we can't pick-and-choose which proscriptions in the bible we get to follow. If you're a Christian who thinks they have supreme moral authority, then speaking as a Christian - Go to bed, would you please?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Having the Grind Nature, f(Confidence), and Balanced Living

The thing about the daily grind is, it's inevitable. No matter how good your job is, no matter how much fun you have doing it, you're going to have days where working is, well, work. Whether this sudden aversion is the result of performance falloff, low traffic, or an allergy to routine, you're going to have a few days where working isn't such a good time. This is when all you MMORPG players (especially those of you who play EVE Online) are going to start to feel right at home... you already have the grind nature.

Having the X Nature is a common construction in certain internet-connected subcultures. I could explain the etymology, but it's effectively just a roundabout way of saying that someone or something possesses the given trait. In this case, having the grind nature means that you are attuned to the nature of slogging through things that might not necessarily be fun, like the 40th iteration of a "kill X bugbears" quest or the fifth or sixth haul on your asteroid mining run. While the grind is most often associated with gaming, anyone over the age of about 20 knows it applies to work as well. There are any of a number of ways to prepare potatoes but every cook knows just how boring it is to make roasted garlic mashed. I sell tea and tea products for a living, and if you were only going to get three teas and one cast iron pot, there are 18, 821, 880 permutations of that transaction... and yes, calculating those probabilities is one way I keep myself entertained when we're bored... but anyone who has ever worked retail knows there's really only four or five rockstar products you earn in the run of the day.

So how do you get the Grind Nature? There's a certain extent to which that question has no real answer, in the sense that there is no one trick that will imbue everyone with that mythic level of patience. Again, you see this in how different people play different games. I like to chat when I'm grinding on MMORPGs, especially ones that require minimal player intervention, like EVE. At work, I get around Grind Nature by making it a game. Work's boring? Find a way to score it, and then beat high score. Sometimes this solution leads to interesting consequences like the construction of eight-sheet Excel Workbooks for tracking job performance. Shooting for high score continually moves the goalposts and a competitive nature can allow one to push themselves into higher and higher brackets.

Of course, I mentioned performance falloff for a reason. As near as I can glean from talking to people, job performance falloff is the main reason they feel like they're stuck in a grinder, and this attitude is a negative feedback loop. Succumbing to the bite of performance falloff usually results in laziness and this just breeds more falloff, especially if the initial cause of the falloff was external, like decreased customer traffic or increased competition for individual metrics. When I worked in tech support, we called this the Stupid Sunday phenomenon - the call time of each individual agent maps inversely to the number of agents on the floor.

It is important to remember that in virtually every field, performance is a function of confidence. We simply do better at our jobs if we are comfortable doing them, and all the fancy tools and specialized knowledge in the world won't help a person who doesn't trust their own work. In retail, this is because confidence and charisma often map to each other. In the trades, this is because one needs to be able to function well without outside intervention.

Of course, the main way to develop the Grind Nature is to have an outside release from the grind. MMO players often find this through PvP interaction - in the real world, we like to go to bars instead. Still, one must be careful about what their chosen release from work is. While no one behaviour is inherently bad, over-relying on it it can be. Bar evenings are fun, but so can be an afternoon trip to the gym or the pool.

What do you think, readers? What's your best way to find work-life balance? Do you have the Grind Nature?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ask the Auditor

Let's try something a little different. I'm throwing this post entirely open to user comments. Ask me whatever you like and I'll get my answers to you as soon as I can!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Defence of Ignorance

While this would have been a good topic for Far-Out Friday or Methodological Monday, I've decided that, much like real, actual science, this didn't feel like something that should be made to wait. We stand at an exciting point in our understanding of the world. Day by day, we learn new things about the very large and the very small. In every field of science and on every question being asked we grow a little closer to an answer day by day. The Ivory Tower grows a little taller, its foundations set a little firmer, the horizons to which it can see swell a little further day by day. But there are those among us who wish to qualify. Those who wish to say that there are questions which are not worth asking. Those who dismiss the question because they themselves do not find it interesting, nor does the answer affect their daily lives. The same people who declare that further investment in space-based technologies is a waste are among the first to complain when their GPS lacks the appropriate level of fidelity.  There is a tendency among many to call this willful ignorance.

A realization of one’s own ignorance is a healthy thing. It is as good for the mind to know what it knows as to know what it does not. It is humility, to admit we do not know. It is hope, to realize that is temporary. The best phrase a person can utter when faced with a question they cannot answer is “I don’t know, yet.”
For 100,000 years, the human condition has been a journey from ignorance. Ignorance impels us. It entices us to create new solutions, understand new conditions, and, in fact, improve our own way of life. The advancements of human knowledge, the creation of the Ivory Tower, have always been the milestones by which we marked the shifts of human history, and you know that by the names. The Bronze Age. The Iron Age. The Renaissance.  The Atomic Age. The Space Age.

But there is another age we speak of: The Dark Ages. We know these not for the advances that were made but for the opportunities that were lost. This was a time when the majority of the western world was mired in an attitude of intellectual arrogance, of willful ignorance that stemmed from the conviction that we knew everything. The things we didn’t know didn’t matter, and when the evidence for the new order of the things we did know contradicted what was gospel truth, opposition to these new ideas was vigorous and often violent. Some ideas were even lost as crusades, wars, and disease tore its way through both scholars and scholarship.

This was not the end of western academia, though it was a setback. The ideals of academic study, begat by the Greeks, survived in the libraries and universities of the Muslim world, and the fruitful thinkers of lands further east developed technologies that would become known to the west only after the opening up of trade between East and West. And eventually, the West would recover as well. And while we have grown beyond the Dark Ages in great leaps and bounds, recovering much of what we knew, learning new things beyond that. The dark ages were ages long past.

But we cannot, we should not, allow ourselves to forget the root cause. We already knew everything that was worth knowing, and we knew that with such conviction that the cognitive dissonance of being proven wrong made us violently repressive of the truth. We knew the earth was flat. We knew that the heavens revolved around it.
Imagine what we’ll know tomorrow. There’s lots of room left to explore. Just ask anyone with a passing familiar with the wild earth, the ocean deeps, and the vast, and not-so-empty space between the stars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preparedness and Organization: A Tea Wonk's Satchel

There was a trend a while back on Gakwer Media's Lifehacker Blog where they got the writer's talking about their "go bag", which really meant their every day carry bag. The concept of a carry bag is nothing new to people who like to get out of their house on occasion or who have work that requirest a certain amount of mobility, and after re-reading them to figure out what to do with spare flash drives (I have a dirth of them lately), I've decided to do one of my own.

Now, my bag is nothing special - a messenger bag from Zeller's that I've already forgotten the make on. It's actually not ideal for my purposes by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the trusty-rusty alternate and until it shows signs of breaking down I'm probably going to keep using it. The contents, as always, are more fun than the bag, so let's talk about those.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Faith is the True Shibboleth" - A Declaration Long in Coming

"For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law."
Romans 3:28 (Douay-Rheims Translation)

As a sidebar parenthetical to my point, I'd like to say how annoying it is that there are so many versions of the bible. I have two physical copies published no more than fourty years apart with strong variations between them, never mind the variety I have available to me online.

Seasons shift, I earn time for my brain to be idle, and my mind turns again to religion. It's one of those subjects that are easy to write about, but hard to talk about. Easy to expound, but hard to feel right. We concern ourselves with this dictate, that maxim, those commandments. We look at each other and we see only the lines of difference. Jesus or Mohammed? God, Allah, or Yaweh? Or Vishnu?

In the global scale, these questions are not important. They are personal questions alone. They have to be, because they are not empirical. As much as I would love to come down with absolute certainty, I cannot. I can only come up with the things that are true where I am sitting? If I had found religion living in Yemen, would I be a muslim? What of the Tao te Ching? 

I not, nor will I likely ever be, a great scholar of Christendom. It seems unlikely today that I will ever be called a modern-day doctor of the Church. The only bible verses I know are my favourite platitudes and even then I must look up the chapter and verse. I can't recite the apostles from memory and I really only know about eight of the ten commandments without having to look them up, though I'm sure if I dug deep I could remember them all.

Christianity isn't about the recitation of facts. It's not about adherence, blindly, to laws and statutes. That's why we have discernment. It's why people make decisions for themselves and why we never felt the need, in days more Christian, to proscribe all sins as criminal laws. Christianity is about following Christ. It's about becoming more Christ-like. Being a better person, in a way. Christ spoke broadly of the things that mattered most in the grand scheme. The Golden Rule, Charity, those sorts of things. All the rest is Theology.

It's why I don't subscribe to labels. In my previous post I used the phrase Heisenberg Christian to refer to myself, as a reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal which has nothing at all to do with spirituality. Most of you know I was baptised and confirmed as Catholic late last year. You've all read about my favourite chaplets and what-not. In many ways I do still identify as Catholic. When the mood strikes me, I attend Mass. I believe in intercessory prayer. I say the Rosary, which a lot of protestant churches hold to be a non-Christian thing to do. But, on the rare occasions it comes up, I don't identify as Catholic. I leave it at Christian.

I've read the bible. Cover to cover, pretty close to twice now, in two different translations. And I've learned a lot. One thing I didn't need to read it to learn is that it's hard to get two people to agree on the majority of what it says and impossible to get two people to agree on all of it. The translation issue doesn't help, but it's more than that. The holy spirit works in us in its own way, and our brains are just wired different. Sometimes we interpret things differently. Prioritize things differently. Idealize things differently. I've mentioned before that I don't believe denominational Christianity is truth.

The separation between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity creates friction where it did not exist before. It simplifies conversation to the point of blunting it. The majority of Catholic women use birth control. The majority of baptists are not baptised. We all sit back in our comfortable computer chairs and argue with each other, drinking expensive imported beverages, about who is wrong, each condemning the other with perfect conviction and absolute assurance. Both right, which means both are wrong.

I leave it at Christian. I use the word Catholic in its original sense of universality. I seriously consider the writings of the Magisterium and the Papacy alongside the works of the great unions of protestant Christianity. I read the Catechism and form my own conclusions. If the Church is wrong, I say so. If I am wrong, I wait to be shown so.

I leave it at Christian. To do otherwise is not wholly honest. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Auditing Assisted Suicide

Even though this originally came up a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that  the status-quo prohibition of Physician-Assisted Suicide was in violation of the Constitution Act (in not one but two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Unfortunately for you, perhaps, I chose to stay out of the matter. The date that the ruling was handed down was surprisingly close to my recent birthday, the stress of work was mounting, and wading into a topic as controversial here as abortion is in the United States wasn't high on my priority list. Fortunately, now that I'm back up to my fighting weight, I've been given a second shot because the Vancouver Sun is now reporting that Ottawa will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Better part of half a decade ago, now, I took my first formal course in Canadian Law, through my high school. The teacher was lively, and often deliberately induced class debate, particularly on issues related to the Charter specifically or to the Constitution in general. One of those issues was assisted suicide, specifically the case of Sue Rodriquez, pictured left, who won a battle in her lifetime to earn the right (it would seem temporarily) to end her life with the help of her doctor.

Now, the exact specifics of her case elude me at the moment, but I remember arguing rather vociferously that she should be allowed to do so. I used s. 7 as the cornerstone of my argument, which reads:

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
As I recall, my argument chiefly revolved around the idea of life and liberty. I argued that the only way you can have a right to do something was also to have the right to refuse it, otherwise your "right" was more of a mandate and in that case the Charter wasn't as useful a document as one would hope.

Times have changed a bit since then, however. For one thing, I no longer feel the need to come down on the liberal side of every issue on-spec. I've also learned to separate my issues and prioritize them.  In much the same way as governments in a federal system divide powers along federal, provincial, and municipal lines, I divide my opinions on law and morality. They aren't the same, but for wishing making it so. As I've written before, what is just is not always legal, what is legal is not always moral, and morality, no matter how objective we insist on it being, is subjective, and you need look no further than any argument on any moral point ever to see that.

The Catholic Church teaches that assisted suicide (what it refers to erroneously as Euthenasia in the Catechism) is morally unacceptable on the basis of  an equation to murder that is not-well cited, and before you try to point out that it DOES have some form of scriptural support, that citation simply isn't made available in the supposedly "complete and updated" version of the catechism I was given by my sponsor when I was baptised late last year.

Now, I could wrap myself up in my usual arguments: as a Heisenburg Christian (that is to say, uncategorised), I don't necessarily consider the Catechism to be binding to everyone. I could also give the "assisted suicide =/= murder" speech, on the basis of consent. I'm getting quite good at those arguments. The problem is, I can't put real conviction behind either argument. Believe it or not, at the age of 22, I don't have a solid opinion on every subject in every field any more. I miss and regret the teenage years of absolute certitude because I miss the feeling that I know everything, a feeling which went out the window at the moment I realized I didn't.

Now, am I saying assisted suicide is therefore moral? No - I just finished saying I don't have a coherent position on that particular subject. The deeper question is whether or not a ban on purely moral grounds is constitutional. As I've mentioned in previous posts on abortion, I don't believe that my morality should be allowed to set public policy guidelines. Some morality requires going above-and-beyond the call of the law - ask anyone who keeps kosher or halal, chooses to be a vegan, or chooses to dress or act in a certain way on the basis of their religious beliefs. If this was a question of politics, there would be some merit to putting my shoulder behind a party that would respect my moral views on the matter.

This isn't a question of politics, either, but the constitution. There's nothing to do now but pray, I suppose, for the mental clarity and wisdom of the Justices of the SCC. Whether you're for or against assisted suicide, I'm sure you agree that these are attributes the ultimate legal authority in this country would need in spades.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Thought on Respect: The Devolution of Social Interaction

"Seriously, Charlie, the President is 'sir'. Everyone else is 'Hey you, when do I get that thing I asked for?'."
-Josh Lyman interviewing Charlie Young for the position of Personal Aide to POTUS (West Wing)

I have noticed another change in our society, since I've started to work more directly with the public. While it's true that my work has pretty much always been in the service industry, I've rarely worked directly with the general public. As a general rule, I actually tend to avoid interpersonal relationships, if only because I am only good at being outgoing under altered mental states brought on by caffeine, ethanol, or whichever of the various brain hormones is responsible for manic upswing in people with Rapid Cycle Bipolar Disorder. I'm trying to work on that, and so far it's going well - but this is all a little bit of a disconnect from what I meant to talk about.

My previous post On Misogyny essentially reduces to a post on respect, which is an aspect of social interaction I've talked about our culture generally lacking in North America, and that particular interpersonal sin I'm as guilty of as anyone. With that in mind, I'd like to expand upon the idea and bring to the front the idea that we all might be wrong.

Now, my NS readers might be happy to digest their arguments in logical equation form, but I'm going to spare you the difficulty of the translation and move on to basic fundamentals. And to help me illustrate my point by tying back into the issue of how men and women perceive and interact with each other, I'm going to provide a link to what I feel could be considered the alternative angle of my previous post - Cam's recent post on modesty.

Perhaps not surprisingly between the modern climate and natural forcings, the conversation of interaction between men and women often becomes a conversation about sex, or at least the hunt. Like it or not, humans are sexual creatures just as much as any other mammal, and we have some 200,000 (anatomical) years of history and 50,000 (behavioural) years of practice at scratching that particular itch. That doesn't mean that's the only thing we're good at, or the only reason we need both genders.

I say genders for a reason, too, as opposed to saying both sexes (the terms are not the same despite their conflation in the English language), because, apart from the mechanics of sex, the different genders have, generally, different attributes. This is not universally true but it is a truism - something that can be leaned on, as long as you keep an eye on it and watch that it's not about to fall out from under you and make you look like an idiot. For example, it is a truism to say that men generally care more about beer than women, which is why you rarely see the beer commercial being pushed using men in bathing suits a size too small.

Life is society. Humans are social creatures. We rather quickly become more than a little maddened by a lack of social interaction. And as anyone who makes friends can tell you, friendship doesn't care about gender. There's a lot of other factors it doesn't care about either, and it shouldn't come as a real shock that two of the people I'm most friendly with at work (which isn't to say I'm not friendly with everyone) are the two least like me, and often in more ways than just personality.

People need each other. Good people know these needs are more than just social. In times past, perhaps moreso than now, courting was more than looking for some scantily-clad woman to lay, or the guy with the best jawline (can you tell I haven't figured out yet what makes men attractive to women? As I used to say in the kitchen - not my table!). It was about looking for the person who could provide the other's whole person, as opposed to their one aspect.

I closed off with a rule the other day, which I called Gentleman's Rule #1, but which was, in actuality, a retelling of the Golden Rule. Of the command to love thy neighbour as thyself. It applies equally to everyone.

To reduce people, whether in general or specific people, to their simple sexual characteristics, is a grave mistake. For one thing, those of us who function on multiple hierarchies of needs are going to be a little insulted by it. Looking back to the example of Cam's article, I have to admit I'm always a little offended when I'm shown more of a person's figure than I'd want to be. There's a tendency, perhaps now as ever, to lean on sexual characteristics as a stand in for people skills, personality, or taste. It's insulting to me, it's degrading to you, and on the whole, it contributes to the devolution of social interaction in this country and others.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On Misogyny

Content advisory. Hostile language below the jump not suitable for minors. Parents - you know what to do! (Extremely mild, mind you.)

So, I know I promised a second tea-related post in the twitter feed, but something more important has come up. Those of you who know me well know that schedule changes tend to irritate me more than just about any other non-insult, so I want us to think for a minute about just how annoyed I've let myself become over this particular thing.

I'm not sure how or when it happened, but somewhere between "girls have cooties" and suddenly boys like girls again as normal, we've gone back to misogyny. Now, the original post for the night was going to dovetail tea and the art of gentleman-ship in the 21st century, so I suppose taking the night to yell at the males of my particular species of the Homo genus sort of fits.

The oft-mentioned Greymane supplied the straw that broke the camel's back tonight with his dissemination of a post on Cookies for Breakfast regarding Daniel Tosh, a comedian whose repitoire leans rather heavily on (among other things) rape jokes. It's not my story to tell, and enough people are ripping Tosh a new one that I don't even have to - click the link if you want to know exactly what happened.

Tea Tuesdays: Earl Grey White Teas

I seem to recall repeating my defence a couple of times now for flavoured teas, but then I've gone and promptly described only a few pure teas and tea blends (while I admit that there is supposed to be a jasmine note in Body  + Mind, I really can't taste it, and so it doesn't count).

This time I wanted to come forward and talk about a tea that really is flavoured, though I'll admit it's not like it's flavoured with pomegranate or some other strong fruit note. It's actually an Earl Grey White... that's right, white tea with bergamot. Most people I know don't even realize that Earl Grey is blended with something. All they know is that it smells a bit like a popular breakfast cereal. Now you know!

Now, most of you seem to know me in person, but for those who don't, I tend to drink a lot of earl grey. Or at least I used to. Working at Teavana with 98 teas to blend and sample at my leisure I tend not to drink too much of any one tea anymore, except for a few favourites that managed to make the journey home with me.

Earl Grey teas are named, appropriately, for the 2nd Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister in his day and who received a gift of black tea flavoured with the oil of the bergamot orange... which is a part of the reason for the insinuation that one does not simply add milk to a cup of Earl Grey tea. Lemon is preferred, where available, and I've even gone so far as to add lemon herbal teas to my Earl Grey (in small amounts) to get the same flavour.

Anyway, the particular Earl Grey White I have been drinking was Teavana's, but undoubtably countless other tea sellers will have their own white-tea formulation of the classic blend. It is crisp and clear, and does not want for the dryness of a black-leaf Earl Grey. It's a staple of my tea shelf and won't likely be leaving it any time soon... not even to be replaced by Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong.

Full disclosure time: I am a paid employee of Teavana Corporation in Canada, though I am not compensated in any way for reviewing their teas.  As a general rule, I feel that the more that is said about tea, the more widely accepted tea will be in the future, and the easier it will be for those of us not living in India, China, or Japan to get high-quality teas.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Direct Observation of Dark Matter Filaments!

The universe has a very high mass. So high, in fact, that all the detectable matter in the known universe cannot account for all the detectable mass in the known universe. The standard model of cosmology accounts for this with an interesting substance called Dark Matter - an invisible, undetectable particulate that has mass without being otherwise detectable in any way. The problem (to my mind), was that I could conceive of no way this could be tested. I mean, intangible mass was hard enough to swallow until I remembered that I'm continuously being bombarded with radiation that has mass and I have absolutely no way of detecting that without specialist equipment.

Someone built some specialist equipment and proved me wrong, however, and the announcement of the first direct observations of dark matter comes in the same week as the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

I love being wrong. Hats off to everyone! I wouldn't be surprised if I dissected the experiment for Methodological Monday.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

This Week's "Work" - Week Ended 7/07

I'm not sure if any of these things count as "work", since I don't get paid for them and I don't always have a good reason to do them besides its own sake. Hobbies, I guess, but they consumed my time and my attention this week, so they go in!

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Quick Note on Labels in Politics

At the outset, when people ask about my political views without defining a specific question, I like to say that I am "economically-conservative and socially-liberal". While NationStates players (and probably PoliSci students) might be familiar with a two-axis model of political identity like this, even they have a hard time pinning down what ideas I would or would not go for in political terms, which admittedly is compounded by the fact that I play as many nations with governments I wouldn't always agree with, and often use that distinction to either consider changing my mind or make a valid argument against it. But let's look at a few examples of where I stand on certain generalist and Canadian issues.

Are you in favour of raising military spending, or certain big programs like the new F-jet purchase or the Arctic Sovereignty initiative?
Woah, sparky! That's actually three questions in one, and they've all got room for surprisingly complex answers. If you're asking if I would like to see military spending go up as a percentage of the government's spending, I'd have to say I'm not - I feel there are more important programs. If you're asking if the increase could be made by increasing the sum total of the government spending (or at least not cutting into any other field), then the answer is yes.

As for the jets and the northern base construction, I'm actually in favour of both purchases, despite the fact that the Fighter Purchase was entirely bungled by Defence Minister McKay's department. These jets are going to cost more than I was okay with, but it's necessary in our ageing fleet.

You see, my military priorities are entirely domestic. While it's good and noble that Canadian men and women are off in Kandahar and are (or was it were? The reporting is so vague) in Lybia, there are other fish to fry. We might be the backbone of peace-keeping in lieu of US deployments, but being peace-keepers feels a lot like going to war from here.

So if you're socially liberal, you must be in favour of gay marriage.

Alright, you got me there. In as much as you can call the government side of marriage marriage, I'm all for it. From a governmental perspective, there's only one element to marriage, and that's nothing more than a contract which carries a few tax incentives for having signed it. In that respect, I really think that anyone who can legally sign a contract should be able to get married to anyone else who can.

Now, spiritually, that's a whole other subject that could be a blog post unto itself.

Canada currently has some of the weakest and most poorly defined abortion laws in the Western World. Do you feel that changing that should be a government priority? What would the new laws allow or prohibit in your view?

The only way you could have picked a more polarizing topic would be to ask if fighting should be banned in hockey. Thing is, rules are a lot different for medical practice up here. There are perhaps one or two dozen operations nation wide who can legally perform an abortion.

In my experience, abortion just isn't looked on as an option in my part of the country, which for one thing has the largest number of catholic parishes of any city in the country, and for another thing, usually runs around 20 years behind the rest of the national politically and ethically.

Having said that, I do feel the laws should be more strongly defined. The problems come in with where to draw the line. I don't believe it should be illegal because I can't make a logical, complete case for it without emphasising my morality, which unfortunately isn't shared by most of the west and isn't enforcible by law... the same way I can still go out and buy shrimp despite two of the larger non-christian blocs in the country both having proscribed the eating of shellfish.

How do you feel about taxes? Is it fair that we get hit with both an income tax and a sales tax?

Pal, if you think those are the only taxes we get hit with, you have a poor understanding of taxation. First, let me just say that governance is expensive, and all three levels of government need taxation in order to raise the funds needed to pay for their programs. The only time we really get to complain about taxes being too high is when that money is being wasted, such as here in town where roads aren't being repaired because the city blew entirely too much money on a defamation of character lawsuit.

I actually think taxes in this country should be a little higher, but when I say that, I don't necessarily mean the income tax or the sales tax. Since tobacco use makes up for a few billion of our nation's health care costs, maybe the tax on tobacco should be bumped up the 1.5% it would take to, I don't know, break even. Similarly, it's okay for the government to try and find new revenue streams. I think legalizing, regulating the production of, and taxing the balls out of Marijuana would be a good place to start.

What I am against is deficit budgets. I'm not saying I want the fed or the province or the city to cut so much that they have a surplus next year (I'm not really for surplusses either!), but you shouldn't be trying to make the problem worse. Your debts are a problem I'm going to have to deal with to keep my children from having to deal with it, and frankly, I don't appreciate that at all.

Got your own questions? Hit me up in the comments section below!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Theology Thursdays: Biblical Separation of Church and State

This very well might be most specious argument I've ever made, but you're going to have to bear with me on it anyway. Or go read something else; I can't pretend I have a captive audience here. In point of fact, if the analysis teaches me anything, it's that I really only get hits when I've either (a) said something monumentally embarrassing, or (b) said something that got someone else fired up enough that they cross-posted.

Having said that, I'd still like to know what you guys think on this subject, and as always I have left the comments section open below. You should know that these comments automatically get dropped into my main email inbox and even if I don't always reply right away, I usually read them as soon as they arrive.

I believe in the separation of church and state - the idea that religious office and political office should be mutually exclusive entities. Now, I'm all for past-and-present theologians and clerics running for office, so long as the office takes priority over their religious office and they're willing to vote their own conscience in place of their party or church's line... which is pretty much the same test I apply to EVERY potential vote. I believe that this separation is necessary in a society like that of Canada: one which is variegated, multicultural, and has freedom of religion. In a secular society, the only way to ensure the freedom of religion, is to prevent religions from being a legislative force. I have always viewed the moral codes of religions as being calls "above and beyond" the laws of the land, which is why (in various places) I've had to confess that abortion is not a key political issue for me, as, apart from moralistic grounds, I cannot mount a reasonable assault on the subject.

That in itself is nothing special - the SOCAS doctrine has been around basically since confederation (I believe the idea first came around in the 18th century, but I've been wrong before). What is a little different is that I have had no problem thus far in justifying this viewpoint, to myself anyway, biblically. The admonition to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" has always read to me as being about more than just whose face was minted on the coin.

Money is an interesting device. Individual coins and banknotes have no real value other than the materials they are made from; their purchasing power comes directly from the authority which printed it, and that authority is usually a government. The same is true of laws. Laws are of no force and effect unless the government that has put them in place are capable of enforcing them and you need look no further than the general moral fibre of today's society in order to see just how fantastically true that is. Clearly, anyone even passingly familiar with the incredibly ill-defined field of Christian Morals can find any of a half-dozen violations in the run of a shift at any given retail location, and might even get someone else to agree on half of them! The straying from what we call "God's Law" is endemic of a lack of apparent enforcement. The same is true for internet piracy, which, by the way, was even more of a problem before internet. Bootlegging is not a 90s invention.

Anyway, returning to the point. Money and Laws are two examples of governmental instruments, and the two most powerful things a government can control for the people under its auspices. If we are told the tax the Jews were complaining about on moral grounds were legal because they were government instruments, we're being told that money and laws are not under God's direct purview.

Now, does that mean I am inherently opposed to Theocracy? No, actually, not at all, and one of my most popular and perhaps most liveable nations on NationStates is a non-democratic Theocracy organized by the local Cardinal Archbishop and administrated by lay parish councils.  However, what works for me doesn't work for everyone. The fairest form of government is often said to be the freest, and for that, secular government is the price that needs to be paid.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

World News Wednesday: The Higgs Boson

Something very exciting has happened out in France and Switzerland. Scientists working for CERN on the Large Hadron Collider (the world's largest and most expensive terrestrial science apparatus) announced that they were pretty darn sure that they'd found the Higgs Boson, which was a major objective of having constructed the LHC. Just how sure? There's less than a billionth of a percent chance that they're wrong.

This is huge news for a number of reasons. For one thing, it means that the LHC didn't just fail to destroy the world as half the internet predicted for a few years back, but it also achieved it's main operational goal - finding the subatomic particle responsible for giving other particles mass. This finding has essentially confirmed a large section of physics theory.

It's not often that I get to report about science and world news on the same day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tea Tuesday: A Curious Little Blend

Teavana Image, used without permission
I figure the least they can let me do for reviewing one of their products is let me occasionally use one of their images, right? If only because I don't own any of this blend of tea myself...

This curiosity is difficult to classify as a tea in traditional terms: white, green, black, yellow, or wulong, and that's because it's a white, a green, and a wulong all in one. It's called Body and Mind, and it's a very mellow thing. The image to the left really does its liquor justice, though under different lighting it more resembles a sort of flaxen gold colour.

Like I said before, this is a bled of three different teas, each of extraordinary quality: the legendary Monkey Picked Oolong (I have heard this variously ascribed to Fujian and Anhui), Silver Needle (the very same white I mentioned on our last tea Tuesday as the source of the Silver Yin Zhen Pearl), and a rolled, jasmine-scented green tea called Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl. The flavour is as light as the colour and the jasmine is surprisingly lightly expressed, making this very pleasant hot or cold with no alterations whatsoever.

Now, reviewing this a few days after my Drawing the Bowstring rant and while being famous at work for creating extensive weekly meal plans using only locally-available ingredients is a little silly, I know. These are three laboriously-produced teas all grown in China, which must be shipped overland, over sea, and then overland again until they can reach my shop. I do however try and find some justification in my favourite loose-leaf teas being good for multiple infusions, and of course this one is no exception - brewed at about 79 Celsius for two minutes, you can easily get the first three infusions out of these leaves, and I've gone as high as three more by gradually increasing the temperature and time of subsequent infusions, though I imagine that's more an exercise in stretching things, since most of the antioxidants, EKCG complex, and whatever it is in the oolongs that stimulates the metabolism are well gone by then.

Body and Mind is a commonly-used additive by my tea friends when they are feeling hung over (or wish to prevent such feelings) or getting over morning grogs. It is very popular with a strong fruit flavour on ice (such as a Raspberry Riot Lemon Mate) for something invigorating, or with something lighter (chamomile and lavender flavours being common, or Valerian) for something soothing. All in all, a great tasting tea with a refreshing "otherness" that you just can't find in bags.

As always, I'd like to remind everyone that I am not paid by Teavanna or any other tea provider for any reviews I happen to do, or indeed anything else I do related to tea outside the confines of my actual employment. Beyond my day job, this website is supported only by the generosity of Google (the owners of Blogger) and of you, the reader. As always, I extend an open invitation for anyone in town to visit me at work.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Methodological Monday: Fun with Cryogenic Temperatures

Due to a budgeting snafu, I'm moving Food Week to next week, to coincide with actually having fresh  ingredients of the sort needed to do the projects I had planned. We now return to what was intended to be regularly scheduled programming.

I'd mentioned on the last Methodological Monday that one of the SI units I have a fondness for is the Kelvin, a measure of thermodynamic temperature. I also believe I mentioned that thermodynamics treats 0 Kelvin as Absolute Zero, the lower-bound temperature limit for the universe. As you might expect, physics becomes nearly an arcane science at the very low, and very high, temperatures.

At 0K, the universe has reached its limit. Objects and areas cooled to absolute zero are entirely still across all scales. Thermodynamic exchange stops. To reach this temperature, it is necessary to have a perfectly closed system. Scientists have only ever approached this limit.

At 10e-18 K, or 1aK, matter behaves very strangely. Macroscopic matter teleports through a process known properly as Quantum Tunnelling. This makes it possible for matter, in some form, to proceed through an otherwise insurmountable barrier. In fact, in some extreme cases, quantum tunnelling has been observed to violate the otherwise hard-and-fast rule of the speed limit of the universe (that being the transmission of electromagnetic energy through vacuum). These temperatures currently only exist in our universe in supermassive blackholes.

Scale up to a temperature 1,000,000,000,000,000 times as high, and we reach the microKelvin stage, or thousandths of a kelvin. 1.7 mK is the temperature record for dilution refrigeration using helium-3 and helium-4, which is considered to be the coldest maintainable temperature. Lower temperatures have been (extremely impractically) reached by the University of Helsink, about one ten-millionth of a microkelvin. Temperatures of the microkelvin range are extremely useful for physics. We begin to see microwave and radio emissions spontaneously.

Kelvin-range temperatures are also very useful. We know that the average temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background is about 2.8 K. At temperatures below 10K, we start seeing metals like lead, niobium, and mercury becoming superconductors - extremely useful materials with bizarre electric and magnetic properties such as the ability to levitate magnets and an apparent lack of electromagnetic resistance.

For those wondering, 77 K is the boiling point of nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen costs you about as much as milk per unit volume and is considerably more fun, assuming you exhibit a proper respect for it. It's also surprisingly easy to find and available at many industrial gas/welding supply shops. You're going to need a Dewar Flask (do NOT use a thermos) and a safe way to transport it. I mention nitrogen specifically for two reasons. The first is Ben Krasnow's Astoundingly Understandable Homebrew Liquid Nitrogen Generator, and the second is that there are some compounds, such as YBa2Cu3O7, are actually superconductors above this temperature, the so-called High Temperature Superconductors. That means that you can actually tinker with superconductivity at home! Levitate things!