Monthly Archives: February 2016

BOF VII: More Vignettes:

(Some mild editing to protect the more innocent.)

Belleville, Day2.
Science question:
Irritating life partner #1 is going “Aaaugh”.
Irritating life partner #2 is going “Pffftbbbbr” at a 45 degree angle.
At what angle does the associated weather pattern emerge, and which irritating life partner grows more damp as a result?

“The person who rebuffs you… Are they already shiny?”
S, D, and L like this.
GW: wait… if they’re rebuffing you, isn’t it you that was/is shiny?

“Post-modern Rube Goldberg machine. Discuss.”
MC: Facebook? The most convoluted advertising mechanism every built. Founded upon our natural narcissism and need for attention.
Me: Kind of like gossip/tabloids 2.0?

Me: Sherriff = Shire + Reeve. Huh.
K and D like this.
SED: Shire = village, reeve = protector. You’ll never guess where “fireplace” comes from!
Me: A type of fish that lives in fir trees?
RG: Yes that’s right.
AK: Neat. Word etymologies are fun for the whole family. I use this site, which seems pretty nifty:
Also, “spitfire” used to be more profane:
– Etymonline, a map of the ‘wheel-ruts’ of English.

Me: Do you get your money back when you return an error code?
You, P, and S like this.
IM: Yes, but in bitcoin
DR: yes but…in counterfeit bills?
IM: Or error bills– collectors’ items


Why does outside feel like outside?

You walk outside, you take a breath of fresh air. It smells different. It feels different. Why?

Is it the fact that the air is moving? Is it the plants? Is it the fact that homeostasis becomes easier because air is moving?

Is it the feeling that you can see the sky?

For me, a day always feels better when I’ve been able to get outside. I’m sure some of it is the sun, as getting outside during the day is better than at night, but even getting outside at night feels better than being inside.

So, what could it possibly be? Let’s go over the options:

1) Light

As anyone who’s ever used a full-spectrum light box knows, they can be incredibly powerful and useful in changing one’s mood and awakeness state. There could also be something to do with Vitamin D, even a placebo effect during the winter. (It is suggested that the human need for sunlight-created Vitamin D might be sufficient to explain much of the variation of human skin colour.)

2) Something in the air

Something about the outside just feels fresher. I don’t think inside air really has concentrations of CO2 or O2 that much different from that outside (if it really built up that quickly, you would probably suffocate), but there might be other impurities either missing or in higher concentrations inside.

3) …or something in the way it moves…

If you’ve ever seen a cat react to a window being opened on the other side of the apartment, you know that they can detect air currents. I know that I love the breeze on my face (at least during the non-winter).

4) Sounds

The rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds. They make me feel more relaxed. Like I’ve come out of my cave and I’m alive again? Even the sound of the wind…

5) Not having something overhead

Again with leaving the cave. There’s something uniquely oppressive about having something overhead that close all the time. It makes you feel like you’re hiding all the time? So, why do trees not trigger any fear of something jumping out of them at you? Have humans been apex predators that long? Or is it something that is trained into you, like hearing Lancasters flying overhead?

Expanding Your Horizons

“Expanding your horizons”

Stop for a second and really think about what that phrase means…

How exactly would one expand one’s horizons? If you’re down a well, the horizon would appear to be a small circle far above you, but if you’re at ground level, and outside, your horizon is pretty fixed.

Really, the way to expand your horizon if you’re outside is to remove all obstructions. Mountains? Mountains only block your horizons. Skyscrapers? They only block the sky[1].

The other way to expand one’s horizons is to be higher off the ground, so you can see further. The Burj Khalifa’s upper floors are so high up off the ground that a daily fast will last 2-3 minutes longer because your
horizon has expanded and you can see the sun further into the evening[2].

Perhaps ‘expanding your horizons’ means increasing the number of dimensions you’re looking at? Yes, a 4-D hypersphere would have a 3-D horizon, or event horizon in the case of a 4-D black hole, which is one theory for how the Big Bang started our universe[3].

So, it turns that to expand your horizons, you must first invent the universe[4].

[1]They don’t even scrape it. Really, there’s no way to scrape the sky. It’s not a solid. Technically, you could take air in the upper atmosphere and freeze and condense it such that it would be scrapeable, but your building would probably crack at that temperature anyway.

[2]Thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson!

[3]This is so very cool. Read the article!

[4]“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe” – Carl Sagan

Tax Freedom Day

Note: I am choosing to engage the concept of ‘Tax Freedom Day’ on a methodological basis rather than commenting on the fact that it focuses on costs rather than doing a cost/benefit analysis. If you want more on that topic, comment below!


Tax Freedom Day. A popular phrase and concept, but what is it really measuring?

In Canada, it is published by the Fraser Institute. You can read their report from 2013 here[1].

On its face, it seems like a totally reasonable thing. There are lots of hidden taxes, manufacturing taxes, the employer portion of CPP, QPP, and EI, etc…

They also make the (I think reasonable) statement that the total tax burden on businesses ultimately expresses itself in the goods and services they sell:

“Although businesses pay these taxes directly, the cost of business taxation is ultimately passed onto ordinary Canadians.”

Leaving the main purpose of these taxes as social engineering, implementing the decisions we have made as a society as to how to incentivize people to spend their money. (But then, all taxation decisions do this, and that is a much larger topic.)

They even say nice things like “Most Canadians would have little difficultly determining how much income tax they pay; a quick look at their income tax return or pay stub would suffice.”

1) Capital gains (unknown number of days)

But here’s the catch. They compare ‘Cash Income’ with tax from all sources. For example, they include ‘Income tax’, including all taxes on income, which includes all taxes on capital gains, but not the income from capital gains, or as they put it, in their own words:

“…total income before taxes includes deferred incomes such as investment income accumulated by pension plans, interest accumulated on insurance policies, and corporate retained earnings. While these types of incomes are accumulated, they are not paid to Canadian families in the current year, and thus should not be considered as part of their income for Tax Freedom Day calculations.”

So their conclusion is that any time shifting of income qualifies it as ‘not income’.

Anyways, the point is that their methodology includes capital gains taxes, but not capital gains income.

2) ‘Average’ vs. ‘Median’ (11 days)

The Fraser Institute notes that the ‘Average’ (arithmetic mean) family income is $97,254, and ‘pay[s] a total of $42,400 in taxes’. Note that this is 43.6%. This will be important later.

Combining the report with StatsCan data:

The StatCan Income by Decile:

We can intuit that the median 2+ person ‘economic family’ as an annual cash income of $72,300, or about 7.55% of the total, and pays about 6.85% of the tax burden or about $29,065, or about 40.55% of their ‘cash income’ in taxes. This is a difference of 11 days.

(Compare with the Fraser Institute report table 9 on page 9, note that unlike the provincial comparison table (table 7, page 7), it does not include the income levels of the deciles)

Looking at their own table 9, their usage of ‘average’ income means that the ‘tax freedom day’ is overstated for roughly 65% of the population.

3) ‘Economic Families’ of two or more people vs. those living alone. (8 days)

This is a smaller point, but in table 6 on page 6, they show that the ‘families with two or more individuals’ tax rate of 43.6% (their headline number), when ‘unattached individuals’ are included is reduced to 42.4%

If they weren’t trying so hard to convince people that taxes are high, it would feel like they’re making the social judgement that families of two or more are the default, and anything else is odd.

Bottom line: Don’t believe everything you read. With very little work, I’ve shaved 19 days off the headline number used by any number of mainstream news publications. I’m sure there’s a lot one could say in addition on this topic, about income redistribution and income sources.

The Fraser Institute has a very specific agenda that they are pushing, however much they proclaim otherwise. Caveat Emptor.

Note: Incidentally, whoever decided that copy-paste from .pdf files should break all the formatting and insert all kinds of line breaks should be made to manually fix all of the files by hand.

[1]I’m using 2013 as a basis, because I can easily find the 2013 StatsCan decile data. If you want to read the 2015 Fraser institute report, you can read it here:

<tags and `tags

Note: We went to see Neil deGrasse Tyson speak today, so you get more random musings on tags today!

There are a few previous entries in this series (and maybe more in the future once you read this!). You can find them all using WordPress’ snazzy search function:

So, back to tags:

<tags are showing that your comment was less than something else. Examples:

“I rode a horse” <Clydesdale


“I trained my cat today” <successful

>tags are for showing the opposite, namely:

“I rode a horse” >pony


“I felt good today” >yesterday

“tags are substituting for the subset of #hashtags denoting quotations, or to substitute for quotation marks in very character starved tweets, such as:

Live long and prosper “Yoda

‘tags are for inner thoughts, sometimes quoting someone else, sometimes yourself[1].

Live long and prosper “Yoda ‘reallySpock


Live long and prosper “Yoda ‘neversaidthatdidI

The last one for the day is the infamous `backticktag, invented by people who love programs like the infamous bash fork bomb:

:(){ :|:& };: [2]

`backticktags are used for when you’re meant to take the previous comment and process it through the `backticktag as program code (as opposed to the |pipetag, where you’re supposed to take the previous comment as data)[3].

Examples of `backticktags:

:(){ :|:& };: `bash


10 PRINT “LOOK AROUND YOU” 20 GOTO 10 RUN `bbcbasic

[1]For an exciting treatise on this topic, check out this Slate article!

[2]I recommend you do not try running this unless you are your own sysadmin and you know what you’re doing. Indicentally, Wikipedia has a very nice writeup on how this works, copied below:

:(){ :|:& };:
\_/| |||| ||\- ... the function ':', initiating a chain-reaction: each ':' will start    two more.
 | | |||| |\- Definition ends now, to be able to run ...
 | | |||| \- End of function-block
 | | |||\- disown the functions (make them a background process), so that the children    of a parent
 | | |||   will not be killed when the parent gets auto-killed
 | | ||\- ... another copy of the ':'-function, which has to be loaded into memory.
 | | ||   So, ':|:' simply loads two copies of the function, whenever ':' is called
 | | |\- ... and pipe its output to ...
 | | \- Load a copy of the function ':' into memory ...
 | \- Begin of function-definition
 \- Define the function ':' without any parameters '()' as follows:

[3]If you’re playing with a universal turing machine[4] that can intermingle these, all bets are off.

[4]Or Lisp.

=tags and /tags

Yesterday, I talked about some even-less-frequently-used-tags. Today, we’ll talk about some sparsely-sporadic-tags[1].

Note that many of these alternate tags could be expressed with the #hashtag, but that is more ambiguous, and requires more reading in on the part of the user.

=tags are for when you’re trying to make an equivalence that people might not normally think. Example:

“So, yesterday, I ate an apple” =orange

or, more humourously:

“So, yesterday, I ate an apple” =horse

+tags are for when you want to add an idea to a post. Example:

“So, yesterday, I ate an apple” +alsotoday

/tags or ‘/slashtags[2]’ are for when you have an alternate word that might also fit. Sometimes this is actually what happened, sometimes humourous. A humorous example:

“So, yesterday, I rode a horse.” /goat

An ‘actually what happened’ example:

“So, yesterday, I rode a horse.” /merrygoround

\tags or \backslashtags are for subdivisons within a concept. Example:

“So, yesterday, I rode a horse.” \goldendelicious

|pipetags may be my favourite. These show how you ‘pipe’ a concept through another one, giving it a whole new meaning. Example:

“So, yesterday, I ate an apple.” |pie

[1]Next up are ‘sparsely-sporadically-scanty-tags’.

[2]Possibly the worst children’s game ever invented.

Chili Perhaps con Carne

Chili Peeping!
Chili Peeping!

Chili con Carne was the second thing[1] I ever learned to cook (Thanks JC!). I learned to cook it right after I moved out in 2nd year.

This recipe is in the tradition of what my mom (and I’m assuming my Baba) call ‘peasant cooking’. You take the things that you have on hand, and combine them in a way that makes the most sense. Hashes, casseroles, and stir-frys are similar.

This Chili works well with a variety of ingredients. It can be made vegan (and I often do) by not putting in the meat (as described below).

Chili Perhaps con Carne
Feeds about 8, takes about 1 hr

– Meat if you want (1 lb lean or extra lean ground beef works well, I imagine chicken would also work well, or whatever else you have lying around)
– 2 small- to medium-sized yellow onions, or 1/2 to a full large one
– 1 can whole tomatoes (796 mL, if you don’t like them whole, crushed may work, but I’ve never tried it.)
– 1 can kidney beans (540 mL, some organic kidney beans come in smaller cans. This is fine.)
– 1 can tomato paste (156 mL, the small ones in the grocery store)
– Garlic, 4 cloves (not 4 heads, that would be delicious, but you would probably not taste anything else)
– Herbs & spices (I use oregano, rosemary, black pepper, basil, and sometimes cinnamon)
– Chili powder (actually not a requirement, surprisingly)
– Whatever vegetables you want to put in (peppers work really well, tomatoes could work, but are already present, broccoli may work, cauliflower and potatoes will give a more starchy/sweet taste, zucchini works reasonably well)
– Olive oil (you could use any cooking oil or butter here, even water in a pinch)
– Skillet (Thanks Y&C!), large frying pan, or wok
– Some type of stirring spoon (I use a large wooden spoon)
– Can opener

con Carne Process:
– Turn on the stove. Probably 375 degrees (190 Celsius), for me it’s 3 ticks less than middle on a large burner. 375 is where butter browns, if that’s helpful.
– Cook the meat[2]. For ground beef, this means browning the meat so that it is brown all the way through. I usually put all the meat in the skillet, split it up so more of it is in contact with the cooking surface, then add the olive oil.
– While the meat is cooking, add in the herbs and spices
– While the meat is cooking, chop up the onion(s). I chop them up into about 0.5cm slices, then into 1-2cm max-length bits from that.

Vegan Process:
– Turn on the stove. Probably 375 degrees (190 Celsius), for me it’s 3 ticks less than middle on a large burner. 375 is where butter browns, if that’s helpful.
– Chop up the onions I chop them up into about 0.5cm slices, then into 1-2cm max-length bits from that.
– While the onions are cooking, add in the herbs and spices

Common Process:
– While the onions are cooking, chop up whatever vegetables you’re putting in. I chop up peppers into about 1cm squares
– Throw the vegetables into the mix. Stir them in. Depending on the vegetable, you’ll want to order them by slowest-cooking to fastest-cooking. This is why I put the onions in first. I would put root vegetables (potatoes, carrots especially) in early, mushier vegetables like zucchini in a little later
– Open the can of whole tomatoes. Pour it in including the tomato juice. You will want to split the whole tomatoes in half using the wooden spoon, or they will feel like lava when you try to eat them.
– Open the can of kidney beans (keep the lid). Pour off the water (lid is helpful here). Rinse the kidney beans once or twice and pour off the rinse water (lid is still helpful). Pour the kidney beans into the mix. Stir.
– Open the can of tomato paste. Scrape as much of the tomato paste as you can into the mix (they don’t call it paste for no reason!).
– Stir.
– Let it come to a boil (bubbles popping), then reduce heat somewhat, stirring every few minutes. Let it simmer, with occasional tasting to see it it’s ready. For me, it’s ready when the texture of the vegetables is pleasantly smooth and yielding[3]. This usually takes 10-20mins.

Feeds probably 8.

[1]I’m specifically talking about things I can cook without a recipe. I did a lot of baking with my mom when I was growing up. Or perhaps I did a lot of eating cookie and cake batter. I’m not sure. It was a long time ago.

[2]I only ever start this dish with meat which is already cooked. There is more than enough moisture in the rest of the dish that it is not an issue. I tend to err on the side of caution with ground beef and chicken, as you want to make sure they are well-cooked. I cook them before adding anything else, so I can see that they are cooked.

[3]You may prefer your vegetables ‘al dente’. De gustibus non disputandum est.

(tags and ][tags

Last week, I talked a little about other types of tags outside of #hashtags.

Today, we’re going to cover a few even-less-frequently-used ‘tags, starting with the bracket family.

(tags and )tags are all about the ordering of operations.

(tags show that things that come after this should be combined with it before this is combined with things that came before. For example:

#shoes (underwearpants

)tags show that you should complete the things that came before, before the things in this tag. For example:

#pants )shoes

[tags and ]tags are used in a number of different ways. Most commonly, they are used to denote a paraphrase, such as:


or to denote that a comment ‘distributes[1]’ its positivity or negativity over the entire preceding sentence or group of sentences, rather than just the single word. Example:

You are amazing, you are wonderful, you are a Stegosaurus. ]true

More complex usages of the [tags and ]tags include the ][tag, which denotes when a major video game company is about to take some of your pieces[2].

{tags and }tags are generally used to denote sets and groupings, especially when your intended meaning is at odds with the traditional grouping or non-grouping of the items in question. Examples:


“…apples” }horses[3]

_tags are meant to underline or underscore a point, to make it abundantly clear. Example:

Timothy Zahn _beststarwarsbooks

-tags, sometimes known as -dashtags[4], are used for remarks which are not directly related to the topic at hand, but which the author wants to bring to your attention as an aside. Example:

“Foam swords can be a very important part of your balanced marriage.” -snlswords[5]

[1]This meaning is from chemistry, where square brackets are used to show that positive and negative charge are distributed over the entire ion.

[2]Atari, and atari.

[3]Even though I’m sure that the horse would like to be grouped with the apples. Of course, that horse would mean that you would have no apples left.

[4]Not to be confused with -houndtags.

[5]’S-Words’, as described in

Email as a More Natural Method of Communication?

Recently, I was reading about the history of the ‘smiley'[1] ( 🙂 ), and they mentioned the concept that email may be a more natural form of communication for many people.

Amongst the reasons cited[2] were:
– ‘one could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position and even to a person one did not know very well, and the recipient took no offense.’
[compared to the telephone]
– ‘one could proceed immediately to the point without having to engage in small talk first’
– ‘the message services produced a preservable record’
– ‘the sender and receiver did not have to be available at the same time.’

With the benefit of hindsight, one can see large swathes of internet/programmer culture arising from these precepts, from the ‘No one cares if you’re a dog on the internet’, to concerns about the persistence of photos on Facebook.

With the positive aspects of this culture (ease of communication, democratization, expression on many topics) came negative aspects (flame wars, trolling, and abuse). In response to some of these negative aspects, the smiley appeared.

The smiley first appeared to address the deficiencies of email as the first non-verbal broadcast medium. Over email, you couldn’t express tone or emotion, outside of word choice. And when you’re firing off dozens of terse emails a day, you may not always be the most careful with your word choice.

If you’re emailing back and forth with a few co-workers, this can be quickly smoothed over. But when you’re posting to a newsgroup with hundreds or thousands of members, each of whom can broadcast to all readers, a shortcut to demonstrate emotion or tone can be crucial in improving the signal-to-noise ratio.

Interestingly, you can see the glimmers of things like twitter and facebook in early email conversations, because that’s what these really are, a different way for humans to converse and connect, more natural for some, with smileys smoothing the way.


Second, and more important, these authors were publishing their words in a different medium, with different properties. If 100,000 copies of a novel or an essay were distributed in printed form, and if 1% of the readers didn’t get the joke and were outraged at what they had read, there was nothing these clueless readers could do to spoil the enjoyment of the other 99%. But if it were possible for each of the 1000 clueless readers to write a lengthy counter-argument and to flood these into the same distribution channels as the original work, and if others could then jump into the fray in similar fashion, you can see the problems that this would cause. If the judicious use of a few smilies can reduce the frequency of such firestorms, then maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all. Again, we’re talking here about casual writing on the Internet, not great works printed in a one-way medium that is relatively inaccessible to the general public.


But if it caught on like wildfire, it somehow managed to do so almost without notice. For the engineers and scientists who quickly adopted it as the preferred mode of day-to-day communications, it mostly felt like a logical outgrowth of the development of ARPANET.

In fact, it took almost five years for the builders and designers of ARPANET to sit back and realize that in many ways, e-mail had become the real raison d’etre for the new computer network.

“A surprising aspect of the message service is the unplanned, unanticipated, and unsupported nature of its birth and early growth,” reads a report on e-mail written for ARPA in 1976. “It just happened, and its early history has seemed more like the discovery of a natural phenomenon than the deliberate development of a new technology.”

One reason that it was adopted so quickly was that it perfectly suited the communications needs and style of the engineers who built ARPANET.

In a paper published in 1978 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, two of the important figures in the creation of the ARPANET, J. C. R. Licklider and Albert Vezza, explained the popularity of e-mail. “One of the advantages of the message systems over letter mail was that, in an ARPANET message, one could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position and even to a person one did not know very well, and the recipient took no offense. . . . Among the advantages of the network message services over the telephone were the fact that one could proceed immediately to the point without having to engage in small talk first, that the message services produced a preservable record, and that the sender and receiver did not have to be available at the same time.”

Fishing for Elusive Thoughts

In my first post in this blog, four and a half years ago[1], I presented the analogy of elusive, fish-like thoughts.

One of the corollaries of this, at least for me, is the phenomenon of multiple simultaneous fleeting thoughts that almost can’t be measured without collapsing them. Up until a conversation with K yesterday, I thought this never happened to anyone else.

For me, the first time I remember noticing this was when I was trying to write ideas into my journal. An idea would come to me, and as I was writing it, another would come to me. If I didn’t start writing the second one immediately, it would submerge, and have to be brought out again[2]. I soon learned to start writing the second (and sometimes third) one before I finished the first. Many of my journals have arrows between lines of text for this reason.

My conversation with K suggested that a verbal vs. writing dichotomy may be responsible. The experience was that as soon as thoughts were mentally converted to something that could be written down, they would disappear, almost collapsing in on themselves.

After much discussion, we worked out that taking the thoughts and setting them to audible or semi-audible words would not cause this collapse, leading to the verbal vs. writing dichotomy mentioned above.

Has anyone else experienced things like described above? Let me know in the comments above!

[1]Wow, time flies when vous êtes banane.

[2]I’m still afraid of losing these brief glimpses of insight. Luckily, I remembered the one I had today.