August 12th, 2013


15. buy elastics


Someone called here, claiming to be from Liverpool (England), about refunding some “Windows software services” or some such that Grampy supposedly purchased in May (yeah right: we're not even online) and he wanted to verify this and that. I'd picked up the phone at the same time as Grampy, heard the first bits, and I immediately became suspicious. He wanted to know the exact amount charged on a minor credit card transaction in order to get the refund processed through “local verifying authorities.” The shyster on the line couldn't demonstrate adequately that things were on the up-and-up, and I eventually told him “goodbye”. I should have asked, hey, why not send us a cheque or money order? I mean, anybody legitimate would be able to do that. The whole thing smelled like a way to get access to Grampy's credit card and/or bank accounts, or at least trigger a transfer out using Western Union, that name having been mentioned. Here's some info about a refund scam taking place in the UK in 2011.

What disturbs me is that this was a follow-up call. The next time Mom visits, I'll have to ask her to look over things to see if any damage was done. Hopefully it was just the dollar-something purchase the shyster mentioned on the phone. ... Wow, Grampy just told me that this was the fourth or fifth call – it had been going on for about a week. Anyway, I explained to him why I felt the way I did, and he agrees with me. If someone's got money for you, they can bloody well mail it. (Or e-mail it – it's very easy and all you have to share with the sender is your e-mail address.)


1. Call display is a necessary safety and security feature that should always be activated, on every carrier, at no additional cost.

2. To be accepted on a carrier and made to a customer, every call should have the originating number (with country code and area code if from outside the recipient's) associated with it. Generally, I don't think people should have an expectation of privacy when they're ringing the phones in someone else's home. But there are exceptions: how could people leave an anonymous tip with the police? Or a journalist? What you could do is use a dialing prefix that signalled the call was to be anonymous. Then the recipient would hear a special ring, and see “Anonymous” on the call display. It'd be consent-based – you only receive the anonymous call if you consent to it, by picking it up. Presumably people running news or crime-tip lines would be willing to take these calls; most ordinary people would let them go. The point is that anonymous calls would still be possible, but they'd never be the default, whether or not you're 'unlisted' or 'private'. You could also set your line up to automatically reject anonymous calls, if you experience a problem with people ringing your phone just to harass you.


I was down at Andy's on Thursday night but I'll talk about that later. Today I was getting our lunch and Grampy entered the kitchen saying “There's the barefoot floozy with the floy-floy.” He often says this when he notices I'm barefoot. I've found it irksome because I feel like I'm being compared to someone who's barefoot and pregnant, and it presupposes there's something wrong with being barefoot. (I suppose it would be problematic if we had dirt floors. But we don't.)

Trying to stay pleasant, I turned and said “Please don't say that. I don't like it.”

“Well, what would you like?”

“Well, I want to be barefoot. I like not needing unnecessary accoutrements.”

“Oh. Well, I admire people who are like that. You see, I can't be.”

Huh. Well that paints it in a different light. It's coming from envy! I thought it was purely critical or just a back-in-my-day kind of thing, but come to think of it, is there such a motivation as the purely critical?

I'm trying to finish watching those Human Behavioural Biology lectures this summer. I know that I've been talking about them as if I've already finished them. In my defense, I finished the books (Chaos and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers) and I got a lot out of the first half, but last summer I got bogged down in the human sexuality section because I didn't want to be seen watching it and all I had was my little netbook screen. Now that I'm into the aggression part I can watch it out in the open, on the living room TV during the day if I want to. Not that Grampy can hear any of it, come to think of it, so it was kind of silly for me to be so catty about the sexuality stuff. (He has a hearing aid, but he doesn't use it. I'd like him to at least try using it at church or something where there's obviously an immediate point to it.)

Anyway, I said all that to say that there's an interesting bit where Sapolsky says how degradation of the frontal cortex is the kind of thing that allows grandmotherly types to readily exclaim how hideous your hairdo is. Not that every outburst of old age is attributable to this, but it's a factor. The frontal cortex is one of the parts of the brain most susceptible to aging. That scares me. It all scares me. Our brains are so precious and fragile, and the more I learn about them, the more I appreciate the wonderful complexity of what we are and how easy it is to derail. And I'm definitely not inclined to take up boxing.

(You can skip to the next section if TV arcana don't interest you.) Grampy just came to me saying that he couldn't get the volume up on the TV as loud as he'd like (“Riding Under An Airliner Wing At Takeoff”). It looks like the new receiver we have isn't as loud on it's “channel 3” output. It's loud enough for normal people, but Grampy needs it more up into the tactical nuclear range. It's nice and loud on the line output, so I showed Grampy how to use the TV's input 3 and not its channel 3. Or I thought I did, because next thing you know he tries to change channels with the TV remote and then he's back to channel 3, and the observed volume is low again (even though the TV's is cranked all the way up).

He was then wondering why he had to use the TV remote to change channels. Wut! You've been using the satellite remote to change channels all this time! It's the same as before! Then he didn't like how the new guide was showing only four channels plus a video window of the channel you were on. So I went into the guide settings and set it to hide the video window (and also unsubscribed channels; I noticed that somehow it went back to “show” even though I set it to “hide”). Then he deigned to use it, and I helped him find a baseball game.

It breaks my heart, but for him I have to leave the TV on “stretch” even though “zoom” is appropriate for a 16:9 picture inside a 4:3 broadcast (the norm for HD-sourced broadcasts on SD channels): the display of the guide is slightly truncated when it's on “zoom” and Grampy can't stand it, even though the HD-sourced programming (which is > 90% of what we watch) only looks ideal on “zoom” (“full screen” is good for SD-sourced programming, but not HD-sourced, because then the TV is displaying a 16:9 letterboxed picture inside a 4:3 box). I wish the TV had an automatic “best fit” picture mode that was smart enough to interpret persistent black bars as something to be zoomed out.

It could be that there's a variable audio output on the receiver that's fixed on the line out. I'll have to investigate further – FWIW, the remote is locked to always control TV volume and nothing else, and the receiver didn't appear to have a varible / fixed setting. I'd hook up the receiver with HDMI, but we don't get the sports channels in HD, and the SD channels look awful over HDMI but look fine on the composite line out. Update: Naw, it doesn't look like there's variable audio output. It might simply be less powerful on “channel 3” than the old one was. But in doing this I had the opportunity to get to know the remote, and I programmed it for the TV. If I lock the channels to the receiver (oh hey, that's the default!) and the volume to the TV, we won't need the TV remote at all, which should hopefully be less confusing. I'll just have to be careful to leave the TV on its input 3 when I turn it off.

(Aside: I almost think it's unethical to put RF (channel 3/4) outputs on any new electronics. With one exception, I haven't seen an in-service TV without at least composite video (yellow jack) in years! You can get an external RF modulator if you really need one for your ancient furniture-piece TV. Or use an old VCR for that purpose; they're a dime-a-dozen. Yes, I do remember the bad old days of the early 90s when you couldn't take the presence of a video input for granted. They were twenty years ago. Kill the RF out! Kill it!)

Saturday Night

I'm sure that preceding stuff about the TV interested at least zero of you, but just for the sake of those poor uncultured souls that aren't obsessed with TV hookups and aspect ratios, here's a section break that you can skim to. You're welcome! :-p

I'm home from a night on the village at 10pm. For walking home, that's got to be a new record. Somebody was very tired after working a very long week, so it wasn't really shaping up to be a social evening, though Mike dropped by (he's also been really busy; he was around a lot more last year) and we went to Josh's looking for Andy. We had a nice visit at Josh's, but it turned out Andy and Elise were out walking with Meg and her pets. Mike and I chatted in Andy's shop for a bit, but Mike had to take off again because he's going to Halifax tomorrow morning to see his new grandson.

I'm listening to the stereo version of The Who Sell Out. It's really good – something that's really worth sticking on a hi-fi and listening to, through speakers designed for playing music, perhaps even in your house (no road noise, although on the other hand there are albums that seem to sound better when you're going somewhere). I've listened to it a fair amount, but in the car or on my MP3 player it loses a lot of its subtleties. A few thoughts:

* - I sort of wish they'd gone all the way with the pirate radio thing. It's like 95% there – there isn't quite enough commercial stuff to really hammer down the feeling that you're listening to the radio (at least not from start to finish). Fortunately, the bonus tracks on the 2009 reissue put a lot of alternate ad takes in between the bonus material, and it all fits pretty well. (To some extent The Who were hampered by the LP format: there wasn't space on the album for the Jaguar ad, for instance.)

* - Rael is a bit laboured. But it's not bad, and I guess asking for one or two equivalents to “I Can See For Miles” to fill its space is like asking for the moon. It's also a good mental image (spoiler alert): a self-imposed castaway who thinks the ship will come back and check if he really wants to stay forever.

* - I wonder what Pete Townshend's motivation was for all these rock operas. It makes me think of Scott Joplin and his ragtime operas. These days it'd be a joke – opera is a niche, no longer a mainstream aspirational thing. Neither rock and roll nor ragtime had to be the basis of operas in order to be worthy on their own terms. As far as I know, nobody's thinking, “You know what will get dubstep the critical recognition it's been missing? A dubstep opera!”

Thursday, in hindsight

It was one of those nights where I ended up writing down a bunch of things and what isn't nonsense is fairly private. Here are some potential essay questions:

To what extent do you have to get political to be apoltical?
To what extent do you have to get violent to be a pacifist?
Does love have anything to do with a degree of intersection in 'emotional' worldview?

I felt like I really love this place, although I can understand if people think I'm overstating things. A lot of my present feelings are built upon ones from childhood. I think it's important that I openly express this love of place because it will be the only common philosophical ground I have with many. But it bears mentioning that I'm not really from here, and I've never worked or gone to school here.

We're all pulled toward people like ourselves*, but if anyone asks, it's not conceit, it's kin selection.

* - That's not the only pull, as anyone who's ever ventured outside their village or watched TV can attest.

I've got to get internet here if I stay here through the Fall. I would feel less isolated overall. Hopefully I'll still be able to tune out when I need to and get things done. I think I'm starting to miss the cyber carnival a little less each day, and chatting with people on Skype and working on web applications are both healthy activities, and they require an internet connection.

Life is a waltz with Death, but you don't have to let Death lead the whole time.

I wonder if I haven't been listening to my senses enough. My body doesn't seem to like sitting in a chair and typing. Yet that's the economic activity of the modern age. I wonder what the next paradigm will be?

Andy's sister saw me writing things down, noted my hair falling over my eye, and said “Buy elastics” as something I should write down. That day will come – my hair isn't quite long enough yet to put into a pony tail. I feel like I could use longer hair and a pony tail for my own sanity. Why should only girls have all the fun of playing with hair? The only downside is this... well, to every red-blooded straight male behind me whose hopes I'll be dashing, I'm very sorry.

Finally, I felt like I came to an experiential understanding of how fear is something that's learned. Low-hanging fruit, maybe. But I really hadn't thought about it much at all. And soon I would learn a little tiny bit about the neurology of it.

* * *

Ted: Very funny when it's trying to be funny. But what's a potentially carefree comedy is hamstrung with a plot that's surprisingly melancholy (but it hits the right notes). It's satisfying and well-done, but I wanted a bit more of the risk-taking that's a hallmark of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy. There isn't an excess of gross-out stuff, which comes as a relief these days. The bear is extremely well rendered and looks perfectly real the entire movie. 8.5

Dilbert (TV Series): Starts off strong enough but later episodes are uneven, despite a strong cast (and some surprise cameos). A few more loose plot arcs would have helped, especially in the second season. But this show is from 99-00, before that was really the norm in TV. Some of the characters are somewhat different from how they are in the comic strip. For instance, the PHB is a lot less angry, talks in a folksy way, is more prone to nonsense, and is more inconsiderate. Alice has a human side. Wally is only almost always useless. And yes, Dilbert and Dogbert have mouths when they talk, but the creators did well to make that part seem quite natural. 7.5

Unseen Academicals (Book): Not bad. A little too wacky at the end. FWIW, a “You thought it was over?” is great for second climaxes or unexpected twists. For just, “Oh, here's some more detail”, it's kind of a letdown. I picked out this novel to read because Rincewind was in it, but it's not a Rincewind story – he's a background character (he has no POV scenes), and only has a handful of lines. 7.5


Uncle Bill came down and he and Grampy were watching a baseball game on TV. I sat with them from time to time while I was 'preparing' dinner (i.e., waiting on a frozen entree in the oven).

Grampy was taking note of the crowds at the ballpark. “Look at all the people... God!”

The second time he made this observation, I said “You seem exasperated.”

“Well, it's society. It's Sunday.”

“Sunday afternoon,” Uncle Bill said.

“Afternoon, yes, but most of those people have come from some distance away. I'll bet you damn few of them have been to church.”

Internally, I'm like, oookaaay... what's your point? But Uncle Bill reassured Grampy with the fact that the churchgoing proportion in the United States is higher than in Canada or Western Europe. And Grampy was glad to hear that.

In the evening I went down to Andy's and we chatted with a German couple who were staying there. Later, Andy showed me how to use some of the woodworking machines in his shop.


I went for a little drive today to air out the car (it had been sitting in the sun) and I ended up going all the way to the top of Cochrane Hill. Funny thing, going up that hill I noticed the car was struggling to get fuel into the business end of things – it was kind of gasping its way to the top. This was kind of alarming. I hope it's because I didn't happen to have much fuel left in the tank. We'll see how things are on Thursday morning when I drive to the ferry terminal (to go to PEI); I'd better leave myself lots of time! This is the way I'm going to go. (Inland routes 347 and probably also 348 are predominantly quite rough.)