May 2008 Archives

How to be lazy in the city

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I've realized that when I live in big cities, there are far more ways to be lazy than when I live in small ones. Without further ado, method number one for being lazy in a big city.

Don't dry your hair. If you take the subway to work or school, you'll never need to blowdry your hair again. Towel it dry a little, so that you don't drip on others, but there's no need to finish the job. Instead, just stand under the vent in the subway car. There's that spot near the doors, where the ceiling has a great big round vent. On dry hair, it has the effect of mussing. On wet hair, however, it's super handy. If your subway trip is any distance, you'll get your hair blowdried, without running up your own electricity bill or wasting time. Huzzah!

Kind of gross, but so very useful

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Another one for the clever idea file: I have these mugs that have no handles. They're nice looking, they stack well, and they're fantastic for cold liquids. The only problem is that they majorly burn when hot tea goes in instead of cold water or juice. It makes taking tea from the counter to the table ridiculously difficult. I've tried leaving lots of room for rice milk, but it just doesn't cool the mug down enough. Today, I tried putting ice cubes in the tea to cool it down. It worked well, bit it watered down the tea a bit. That led me to an exciting new solution. I decided to put rice milk in the ice cube tray. They idea of rice milk ice cubes seems a little nasty to me. But it seems like a good way to cool down hot tea and add milk at the same time. If it works out, it may become a fixture of my freezer.

Unions as personal shoppers

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Some people like to buy North American cars. They think that by buying a GM or a Ford or some such, they're helping to keep jobs in Canada. There's no guarantee, though, that any given domestic car isn't, in fact, made in Mexico. This is the issue: how do you know which car is actually made in Canada? Would you, in fact, be better off buying a Toyota made in Cambridge? Enter a clever idea for a website that I know I'm never going to get around to doing.

If you ask the car salesperson where any given care is made, and where the components are from, s/he isn't terribly likely to have good answers. You could ask the company itself, but that means getting bogged down in automated phone system hell for every make of car you're interested in. It's probably easier to just ask your friendly neighbourhood auto workers union. That's a bit of a hassle, though. It takes a motivated consumer to do such homework. So, why not have a website that aggregates product recommendations from the people who actually make those products? The CAW tells you which cars are actually made in Canada, garment workers tell you which brands give them a reasonably fair deal. I think it would be a very useful little tool. And I'd totally use it, too. But do I look like I need another project in the pipeline?

Two reasons why I want to join the EU

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From time to time, I wish Canada could defect from North America and become a member of the European Union. There are two reasons for this. Number one is that I'd like to get out of NAFTA. Number two is that I'd like to be able to participate in Eurovision voting. Yes, that's right: Eurovision and NAFTA in the same post.

Distant families and close TV

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I re-watched the season finale of Torchwood today. I actually cried a little when two of the characters died. It strikes me as odd that I should cry for fictional characters. It seems especially odd when I stack it up next to my inability to cry when one of my uncles died. It's been nearly a year and I haven't cried for him yet, but I can cry over fictional characters. Rationally, that seems very strange.

Here's the problem: emotions aren't rational. I barely knew my uncle. He lived on the other side of the country and I only ever met him and handful of times. The Torchwood characters, on the other hand, were a fixture in my life for two years. Over the course of two seasons and twenty six episodes, I learned about their hopes, dreams, histories and problems. They were presented like real human beings. It doesn't matter that their lives revolved around fighting aliens. It's the human element that makes science fiction feasible. Personalities that we can believe in and identify with allow us to suspend our disbelief in other areas. In short, the characters in Torchwood became less abstract to me than a real member of my family.

I can't decide whether this is problematic or not. My knee jerk reaction is to be a little aghast that I have more emotion towards fiction than reality. But then, maybe the problem is that in the standard North American WASP family, there just isn't much emotion going around. Maybe it's life that's the problem. Maybe it's a good thing that TV is training me to feel more.
My phone company called this morning. That is to say, they called my cell phone at eight thirty in the morning. Let's remember, before I get on with the story, that they're supposed to have the best customer service of any mobile carrier in Canada. They enjoy mentioning that in their ads.

So: eight thirty, having breakfast, getting ready to start working, the phone starts buzzing on the table. I pick up and get the standard period of dead air. They make sure that I am who I'm supposed to be. Next is the ridiculous part. This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. They've called me, and they may or may not record the conversation. When I call customer service lines, I expect that. I may not agree, and I may not want my call recorded, but I accept that they've got a bargain going: I call for help, they may record my call. I choose whether or not to call their line for help. When I call them, I decide that I'm willing to have my call recorded in exchange for the help that I need/want.

Where's the bargain in the phone company calling me to ask about my phone bill and informing me that I may or may not be recorded? The only choice I've made is in answering the call. That's not what I think of as informed consent. And what would they do if I said "no" to them? Maybe I'll find out next time.

My version of Cinderella

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I'm sure that every kid (Or maybe every girl. I suppose it's a pretty gender specific story) has their own version of Cinderella. It's the version that they hear at bedtime, the version that they've added to and that they and their parents know by heart. Most likely, the end isn't resolved, because they fall asleep before that point in the story.

I'm pretty fond of my version. I still use it sometimes, too. When I have unshakable insomnia, the tiniest bit of my very politically correct Cinderella puts me to sleep without fail. Last night, I got to thinking that my version is a little strange. Most of the time, Cinderella's father is a widower. Not so in my version. Instead, her mother isn't absent because she happens to be a super important globe trotting archaeologist. My land far far away isn't a straightforward kingdom, it's more of a constitutional monarchy. You can tell that I added the constitutional monarchy bit later in life, can't you?

I've decided that it might be fun to actually put into writing my version of Cinderella. I am concerned, however, that trying to write it might put me to sleep.

Dwayne is an adjective

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I've added a new word to the ginger to English dictionary. The word is "Dwayne." It is, as the title of this post suggests, an adjective. It is an adjective that describes the offshoots of a peculiarly Canadian state of being. To be dwayne, something must possess the characteristics of an nth generation, folksy, down home Canadiana. Getting iced coffee at Tim Horton's instead of a snooty coffee shop is dwayne. To be dwayne is to be friendly, a little old fashioned, and hoserish. It really is a fantastic word. It can be applied to so many things. My deepest apologies to all of the people named Dwayne in the world.

Attention = Equity

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My clever insight for today: Attention is contemporary equity.
It's fun to think about and it makes a great soundbite.

Adult deterrent retail

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I was dragged into a Garage a while back. In case you don't know what it is, Garage is a clothing store aimed at tween, teen, and early twenties women. I think it's only in Canada, and, if I remember correctly, it used to be kind of retro gas station themed. Now, though, it seems that the powers that be at garage have taken a clue from Hollister. To put it bluntly, it looks like a beach house. It's all tiki and dim lighting, and you have to actually make an effort to go inside. Never mind having a store wide open to the mall hallway. To get into Garage, you need to actually go through a little doorway/atrium thing.

It's loud inside, too. I'm not old (heck, I'm in their target demographic!), but the place managed to give me a headache. To work there, you'd have to be the kind of kid who likes clubbing, or who can at least tolerate ridiculous amounts of noise pollution for an extended period of time.

Garage has, as far as I can tell, turned its stores into fantastic parent repellant. If we're to believe the common perception, loud, dim, and difficult to navigate are turnoffs for a lot of people over a certain age. Does this mean that perents are handing their daughters the credit cards and letting them go at it? Or are contemporary parents into this sort of thing? Or maybe I'm from an alternate universe and no child, ever, would let a parent take her shopping. I could do with some insight on this one.

More on video stores

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First of all, I need to point out that Movieland is the only name for a video store. It's like calling a bowling alley Bowlerama. It's just the natural order of things.

So, I was in Movieland the other day (seriously) and I decided to carry out a little preliminary research for my video store study. I had a little chat with the guy at the counter. I asked if he'd ever had anyone in, renting movies and crying. His answer was encouraging. It turns out that there are criers. I am now unreasonably happy on two counts: people who cry in video stores do exist; people who work in video stores are suitably observant and would probably make excellent interview subjects.

The other cool thing I've noticed, in conducting my literature review, is that it's next to impossible to actually do a literature review for this project. I've found one study relating to the impact of mood on movie rental choice. That's as close as I can find to information relating to my topic. That's both good and bad. The good is that I won't be studying the same tired old thing. The bad is that secondary sources will be hard to find. Still, it's darn exciting stuff.
I've noticed something new and exciting. The thing itself isn't terribly new and exciting, but it's exciting that I've noticed it. I've noticed, as the title of this post says, that there are loads of different ways for me to get the same information. I'll give you an example.

Say I want to see what's new on BoingBoing. I could just plug the URL into Firefox and go have a look at the page itself. I do that a few times every day. Another option is to grab a glance at my iGoogle homepage, which has a widget for the BoingBoing RSS feed. Or, and this is increasingly becoming the case for me, I could look in my Twitter feeds and find out what the very latest post is, if there's been anything recently. But wait! There's more. Say I want to watch BBtv. Go to the webpage and look for it? Why bother when Miro downloads it automatically?

One blog, with one set of information, and I look at it in about four different ways. I do something quite similar with the CBC. I'm wondering whether this tendency is a) convenient; b) the wave of the future; c) an obsessive behaviour; d) a quick route to information overload.

Crying in video stores

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Another thing I want to study:

Lots of people watch movies when they feel sad. Where do those people get movies from? Pre-internet, unless they wanted to watch something they already owned, they'd need to go to the video store. That means sad people in video stores. Even if they aren't crying, it should be possible to see who is more upset than the average.

Questions, then: In the past, how often would an average video store get a crier? A sad non-crier? Has the frequency of sad video store customers changed? Has it gone up? Down? If down, where have the sad video watchers gone? Or are people finding different coping mechanisms?

Problems: I don't know how I could possibly dig up information on incidences of video store criers and sad non-criers in the past. I can't imagine that anyone has kept records on that sort of thing. Perhaps it's time for a literature review.

Craigslist personals dynamics

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I keep thinking up things that I want to study. Most recently, I've been thinking about what makes people reply to personal ads on Craigslist. Do people ever post ads that get no replies at all? What are the factors in a popular ad?

There are variables: Who the target audience is in terms of gender, sexual preference, age, location, all that good stuff; how the ad is written; whether or not the title of the ad is engaging... I could go on, because I think there are loads of factors in the popularity of ads. It's a fun exercise in personal marketing, and I somehow don't think there's a substantial body of literature on it yet.

Future Atlantis

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I was thinking the other week about hydroelectric projects. Specifically, I was thinking about the towns that get flooded in the creation of new dam projects. Think: towns evacuated and flooded, buried under new lakes as if they never existed. These towns are the future Atlantises.

Late night grocery stores

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There's a late night grocery store on my way home. I hardly ever use it, but I appreciate that it exists. In that sense, for me at least, it's similar to a falafel restaurant. Tonight, however, I got the chance to use it. Wandering home from a late movie, I got a jones for orange juice. But where can I possibly get orange juice at one o'clock in the morning? Quite simply, I can get the orange juice about one block away from home, on my path from movie to bed.

Most of the time, the late night grocery store is a service I don't feel the need to use. Even though I seldom use it, it's something I like to have around, just in case I find myself needing it.

Evolution and personal grooming

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Every time you leave the house without removing stray eyebrow hairs, you admit that you are descended from apes.

Bowls and forks

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All I want in life right now are a bowl and fork that are meant to be together. I enjoy eating out of bowls, but it drives me crazy to not be able to move a fork properly around the edges of a bowl. If someone would make a fork that had the same contour on the side as the bowl it was meant to fit into, my life would be complete.

Autonomy for customer service representatives

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A couple of weeks ago, I decided to terminate my mobile contract with Bell. I called Bell Mobility, in order to find out how much it would cost to break the contract. After being given the automation runaround, I got a fairly responsive human. The only problem was that she followed her script a little too closely. Even after a conversation about contract termination, even after I had explained that I was going to go to a different company, the Bell representative thanked me for choosing Bell Mobility. I was a little shocked at that. After a discussion explaining just why I'm not choosing Bell Mobility, she was required to thank me for choosing them. I asked about it. She told me that she didn't have a choice, she was required to thank me for choosing Bell. I think that in cases such as these, call centre employees should be afforded a little more autonomy.