Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas is Facebook

There is a real problem with Facebook and other similar social media.  People set up images of the life they want to project to the world and when other people view their posts and pictures it seems like everything in their life is perfect.  Pictures of amazing restaurant food, expertly framed, along with smiling children and gorgeous vacations fill the airwaves, and when we compare our own lives to the lives other people seem to be living they never measure up.  Of course when you actually look at the real struggles people face their online profiles are never an accurate representation.

Christmas is so often the same.  I see so many people and have conversations with them that just barely scratch the surface and everything initially seems so great.  But when I get into deeper conversations or get the full story from talking to others things rapidly change.  I hear about struggle and strife, sadness and silly choices.

It isn't as though everyone is setting out to lie!  They just want to put their best face forward, to forget the bad, to celebrate the best things that happen.

But holiday celebrations have the same effect Facebook does whether we want it to or not.  The hard parts, the sad parts, get squished away, hidden behind a smile.

I wish it was otherwise.  I want to hear about the struggles, the hardships, the messes.  This brings me closer to people.  It makes me actually understand their lives in ways that happy pictures of the highlights never does.

But Christmas, like Facebook, seems like it is never going to be that way.

I liked the Christmas celebrations I attended this year.  I just wish they were heavier on hard truths and lighter on pleasantly passing the time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Benching the stack

Back in high school the standard of being strong was benching the stack.  If I recall correctly the stack was 250 pounds, the largest amount of weight you could put on the bench press machine in the workout room.  There weren't many people who could bench the stack, obviously, and I certainly wasn't one of them.  I would have been able to lift only half of it, I suspect.

Today I am strong enough to bench the stack.  I did my benchpress reps on 180 pounds tonight, and although my machine only goes up to 200 pounds my ratios from earlier on suggest that my maximum press should be 250 now.

It is funny to me how these totally arbitrary standards have such significance.  Why should I care that I passed a benchmark that is twenty years in my past, and didn't even matter back then?

No idea, but I am totally stronger than most of my highschool peers were back when I was 18!  Rawr!

Silly as it is, it feels great to hit that number.  I don't look different than I did six months ago as far as I can tell but my strength has been slowly increasing.  I had thought that I had hit my maximum and plateaued back in the summer when I was doing 160 pound reps so for months I just did the same weights without thinking about it.  Just recently I realized that my reps were easier than before so I pushed my weight up, so it seems that although my gains are drastically slower I am still on the way up.

I have no idea where it will end.  I haven't increased intensity aside from increasing my weights, but I am still seeing small scale results over time.

Now I need a new arbitrary round number to aim for.  The easiest is to just work towards doing my reps on 200 pounds as that is certainly achievable but will take time and effort.  I suppose at some point I should really get into a gym that has a bigger stack on their machine so I can find out if my calculations are right about my maximum weight, because for some reason I want to know.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Today a friend of mine posted a puzzle on Facebook.  It was a challenge where you have to solve a puzzle and there are penalties if you get it wrong.  It went like this:

I just changed my profile picture because I lost a challenge, and now I have to have a llama profile pic.
Solve this riddle...
It's 3am, you're sleeping and hear the doorbell. It's your parents there for a surprise visit (because apparently they have nothing better to do at 3am), they wanna have breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, bread and cheese. What do you open first?!
Don't forget to answer by private message do not put it in comments. If you answer correctly I'll put your name in the comments. If you're wrong start looking for a llama pic to put as your profile pic for 3 days.

I answered "The door".  I have seen this riddle before, and that was the answer.  I was informed that I am wrong and the answer is "Your eyes".

I didn't buy that.  If the question had been "What would you do first, from the first moment of hearing the doorbell?" then the eyes answer would be fine.  But when you are given a time and other information the question of "What do you open first?" should be taken as going forward from the last point of established conduct, not a question about what you have already done at an unspecified moment in the past.

I argued the point, but the person in question wasn't super interested in getting into semantic arguments about this silly FB riddle.  Probably sensible.

However, I have since realized that my answer was in fact wrong.  So was the one my friend supplied.

The correct answer is "My bottle of whiskey."  If your parents are knocking on your door at 3 AM looking for breakfast then this is definitely the right response, because things are right fucked up.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A holiday tradition

It is a holiday tradition for me to be curmudgeonly about Christmas.  Not the holiday itself, which is a good reason to visit my parents and other family in Thunder Bay, but all the stuff surrounding it.

Especially the songs.

I was listening to Christmas music in the grocery store tonight and was of two minds.  Of course they were playing non stop Christmas music, which I hate, but at least they took traditional Christmas songs and put twists on them.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer played in a funk/folk kind of way is better than the standard version, I think, but the song itself still make me want to grumble.

The message of "It is okay to be born different from others.  Eventually you will find some unique utility for your difference, and then other people will accept you.  If you don't... get used to being alone and abused, I guess?" isn't exactly one I can get behind.  If the other reindeer accepted Rudolph because it is the right thing to do I would be cool with it, but they were only interested in being decent creatures once he was indispensable.  Yuck.

And seriously if we are going to make up random crap about Christmas we shouldn't start with a peeping tom old man who threatens to punish everyone all year with unclear rules and then gives everyone presents, but the rich kids get the best ones.  How is this a good thing?  Vague threats with no follow through, rewarding those who need it least... this guy is the worst parent around.

If stores want to play Christmas music on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day then fine.  I don't want it, but fine.  But good grief can we please stop with playing it for a bloody month?

To make that happen I probably need to start complaining as much as the people who demand Christmas music would complain if it stopped being played.  There are just so many stores though, and I want so little to spend my days in them yelling at managers about music choices.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Much ado

Being a juror wasn't as interesting as I had hoped.  In the back of my mind there were fantasies of courtroom drama, shouts of "OBJECTION!", witnesses reduced to tearful confessions on the stand by brilliant questioning, and my own role in bringing justice and truth to the world.  I knew those things weren't likely, but one can dream...

Instead I sat in a room.  After thirty minutes of sitting in a room a video was played to convince us that serving on a jury was an honour and a joy rather than a chore.  It made me cringe.  A couple hours later a man walked to the front of the room and gave a long speech about the details of being on a jury, the time frame involved, how it all works, etc.  When his speech was winding down he finished it up with "Oh, and we won't need you at all this week, your service is done.  Thanks!"

I was glad that I didn't get caught up in a big trial.  I have no interest in having my holiday plans destroyed.  I am disappointed that I didn't even get to see a courtroom though, much less any Matlock-style courtroom antics.

It turns out that my experience of jury duty is exactly the same as most people I have talked to.  You sit in a room reading for awhile, then someone tells you to go home because you weren't needed after all.

It is like going to an amusement park only to be turned away at the gate because one of the rides broke and it is a disaster inside the park.  Sure, it is better than being the one on the ride who finds out that it is broken the hard way, but you sure didn't get what you wanted!

If only I could just clear a couple weeks of my schedule and offer to be on all the juries during that time.  I would totally sign up for that.  The waiting in a room for no reason thing... not so much.

Doing my duty

Tomorrow I go in for jury duty.  I haven't done this before, and it is exciting.

I know, I know, it is most likely to be days of boredom sitting in a room with nothing to do, eventually to be told to go home.  Rarely does a prospective juror actually get to trial, and ever rarer yet is a trial that is exciting the ways the ones on TV are.

And yet, I am excited.

I want to understand the system.  I am deeply curious about how jurors are selected, what sorts of questions the lawyers and judge will ask, and what they will tell us.  The things they choose to tell us can be used to figure out what people generally think about the process and how the people running it cope with common misconceptions.

Clearly the people running the jury selection system realize that most people's exposure to this is TV courtroom dramas so they must have to constantly cope with odd ideas about what will occur.

One thing a discussion with a friend brought up was how much I will respect the law when and if I am asked to convict someone of a crime that is not actually immoral.

For example, if I was on a jury where a person was being tried for marijuana possession, could I possibly condemn them to prison for a victimless crime?  It is even harder when we consider that marijuana is soon to be legalized, and I know a *ton* of people that use it.  I can't justify destroying their lives to punish such a 'crime', so how could I justify doing that to a stranger?

I don't think I could.  I want the legal system to be consistent, but if I was asked to convict a sex worker or marijuana user or some other person who should never have been charged in the first place I don't think I could return a guilty verdict.  It simply isn't right.

That attitude might disqualify me from being a juror in the first place.  They don't want people who take writing laws into their own hands - they want people to interpret facts and return a verdict.

(Or they want people who will return a guilty verdict as fast as possible because that is convenient for the system, depending on how cynical you feel.)

Anyway, tomorrow I will go sit in a room for hours on end for no reason.  Maybe it will get more exciting than that, and I hope it does, but the odds are against me.  Still, I go to do my duty, and it is one I take seriously, so I don't mind.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Just a little off the edges

I watched Scarface (1983) for the first time this weekend.  It is an iconic film, one that I knew I was expected to have experienced, but I have enormous gaps in my pop culture education.  Watching the movie was a mixed bag.

I enjoyed the acting and I felt like the actors brought me into the world they inhabited.  I believed them.

It is good to now know where "Say hello to my little friend" and "First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women" came from.  I knew those phrases, but now I have seen their origin which helps when people reference them.

Old movies are *slow* though.  This is the thing that really got me - scenes just went on for a long time, far longer than was necessary to convey the message that the scene was there for.  I am sure people will tell me that it is about mood or something, but honestly it just felt like 40% of the movie could have been cut without losing anything.

That lack of proper trimming is the key to my dislike.  I subscribe to the theory that something is done when there is nothing left to remove.  I talked about Downton Abbey quite some time ago and one of the things I most admired about the writing there was how much they could cram into tiny amounts of time.  If an encounter was going to go predictably, they simply didn't show it.  Instead they would have a character toss away a single line to indicate how things had played out.  Scarface is like many older movies in that it didn't try to do that, or at least it wasn't done with enough vigour.

I suspect people will talk about how my generation wants everything instantly and has no patience, but mostly it is just that I want to be engaged all the time.  If I am going to put my time into a movie I want that movie to grab me from start to finish.  If it is going to drag and have overlong scenes whose point is already made then I would rather be killing monsters on the internet, thank you very much.  I don't want to just pass time, I want the story to leap out of the screen and not let me go.  I have shit to do that will entertain me actively so if I am going to try out passive entertainment it had better be a ride.

I don't regret watching Scarface.  It gives me references I would otherwise miss, and gave me some extra insight into the way film has changed over time.  But it wasn't all I was hoping it would be.  It too often was just chilling, doing nothing really interesting, letting time pass.

And that isn't so much my thing, when it comes to movies.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cash Money

My grandma asked me this week if I am going to return to work.  I came up with an answer, but I don't know that the answer I gave entirely satisfies me.  I told her that I don't really intend to return to work, which is true in the short term, but the conundrum of what to do with my life is a thorny one.

There are two reasons to work.  First off is money, but secondly is the structure that works brings to life.  Sometimes having lots to do and many hours scheduled keeps me doing things instead of just sitting around.  I get a lot more productive when I have to be!  I don't think that actually would improve my life overall though because it would certainly increase my stress and it would be hard on Wendy.  Our life right now relies on me being able to just handle everything that she doesn't want to handle and our schedule is based quite substantially on me being home.  We don't have to worry about who will cook or do dishes or how we will get to the library in time.  I just do it, and that relieves so much tension.

To figure out if the money from working would make me want to go back to it I need to sort out exactly what I would buy with that money.  Our savings are ticking up these days at a rate that makes me comfortable, but we certainly aren't rich.  We don't have financial worries, but we also have to live frugally to achieve this.  So what would me earning 60k a year bring us?

A lot of that money would get soaked up by work costs and taxes.  Some costs are direct, like buying work clothes and transportation, but other costs creep in.  We would end up eating out more, paying people to do stuff for us, and maybe forking over money to keep Elli entertained and taken care of while work was happening.  Consider all that, and the actual net benefit is probably in the 30k / year range.

The thing I most want to buy is a bigger condo.  For 240k we could upgrade ourselves to the big units at the top of our building, which have a better layout, double the living room space (so we could actually entertain more than 3 guests at a time....), bigger kitchen, an office... it would be glorious.

But 240k is 8 years of work.  It does last a lifetime, but because there are greater taxes associated I should probably budget more like 300k, which pushes it up to 10 years of work.

10 years.  That is a LOT of selling beds.  Or writing code, or interfacing between coders and clients, or whatever it is I end up doing.  I have another 50 years ahead of me, and I am not at all convinced I want to spend 20% of it in a giant ball of stress trying to save up for a bigger condo.

The only other thing I can think of that I really want to buy but am hesitant to pay for it tattooes.  If I could get thoroughly inked up without having to worry about money I would, but when I think of an elaborate tattoo that costs 10k and then consider it would take 4 months of work to earn, I can't justify the expense.  I would rather just have my own plain boring skin than put in 4 months at a job.

When Elli moves out these values may change.  My need for space will go down, but my desire for more stuff to do and more structure will no doubt go up.  Also the stressors on Wendy will drop dramatically and the need for me to be home will be less.

So while working again is possible, right now I do the math and it just doesn't seem like the thing to do.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to do something I love which is worth it for its own sake, but as long as work is work it seems like my place right now is at home.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Average vision

It turns out that Elli has average vision for her family.  I have excellent vision, Wendy has horrible vision, and Elli is somewhere in the middle, which puts her squarely in 'Needs glasses, but it isn't critical' territory.

A week ago Elli came home complaining that she couldn't see the board at school properly so I booked her an appointment with the optometrist.  The result is that she mild nearsightedness, enough that she doesn't necessarily *need* glasses, but given that she is having trouble at school with her vision we decided to get them right away.  Introducing Elli to optometrist appointments was an interesting parent moment because she wasn't sure what to expect.  I can see the thinking - eyes are so sensitive, is this going to hurt or be scary?

It isn't painful or scary though, and after I described what would happen she was actually kind of excited about it.

I thought that she would be bummed out by the results.  I certainly would be irritated by the necessity to carry glasses around; if nothing else I don't want to keep track of another object.  Also my money demon has a bit of a fit at the cost of frames!

But contrary to expectations Elli was thrilled with needing glasses.  She explained that she was excited because glasses are her first accessory.  She doesn't have earrings, she doesn't wear necklaces or rings, and much to her dismay she doesn't have a tiara.  But now she has glasses so she has a thing to wear that is special and which she gets to pick out herself.

This is totally beyond my comprehension.  I accept it, but sure don't get it.  I have a hard time accepting pants, and those have pockets for my keys and phone.  Putting a thing on my head that might fall off or get lost?  Ick!  Having to pick out which frames I want and have people judge my fashion sense on that basis?  Faugh.

But she loves them.

One more parenting moment where I sit back and am surprised at the way things turned out.  It is a good surprise though as I was expecting her to need glasses at some point and it was an effortless thing, as medical crises go.  And heck, maybe it will even help her in school.

Of course she picked pink frames.  That part wasn't surprising in the least.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Open ended questions

The other night Elli asked me "What do you think of being a dad and an uncle?"

It isn't a hard topic, but figuring out how to answer that question was tricky.  I have a nephew and a niece, and I wasn't sure if she was referring to one or the other in particular.  I am closer to my nephew because he is my brother's kid, but my niece has more recently arrived.  I had a bit of a protective reaction when I found out my nephew was born, and the same thing did not occur when my niece arrived.

I tried to get Elli to elaborate on what exactly she wanted to understand, but she either didn't understand what she wanted, couldn't explain it, or didn't want to explain.  All of those things happen regularly, children's limited understanding being what it is, so I ended up going on a long, rambling explanation about how being a parent and being an uncle changed me.

I don't feel like being an uncle really matters much.  It doesn't change my identity one whit, and it has only a tiny effect on my life.  I can't say if other people feel that way, but for me parenthood has been a huge thing that changed everything about how I live while having a niece and nephew was pretty irrelevant.

This ambiguity about what exactly Elli wanted to know is one of the things about parenting that I didn't anticipate.  I knew there would be challenges, but I didn't expect how often the challenges would take the form of pure confusion.  I don't know what Elli wants, and she probably doesn't know what she wants, so I am just flailing about wildly trying to give her information and hoping that it works out.

There is real fun in answering these questions though.  I didn't anticipate that so much either.  I like just rambling on about stuff, and if I don't have a particular teaching goal in mind I can just pour out my brain and let her examine it.

Parenthood doesn't define me.  That is one concrete thing I was able to tell her.  I do the parenting thing, but being Dad isn't my identity.  I am just Sky, a guy who has a kid.

I wonder what lessons she takes from these sorts of conversations.  I don't want to ascribe too much import to any individual thing, but I wish I could know what the effects of my choices are on her.  For science, if nothing else.