Category Archives: Thinking Out Loud

Changes on Facebook

Whenever Facebook updates something, such as notification settings or email, they do it silently.  Every time this happens, posts about it will go circulating on news feeds for a couple of days, warning you.  If you don’t catch it, it’s usually not the end of the world, but I’m sure sometimes it can be a big problem.  So people complain.

But how bad is it, really, compared to how other companies would go about it?

What most companies would do is present you with pages and pages of legalese, that you would scroll down without reading, and click “I agree” at the bottom.  Or they’d send you an email saying “we’ve updated some stuff, just FYI” and if you could be bothered to click and not delete the email immediately, you’d get a list of such changes, usually padded with heaps of boring text and/or legalese.  Then you would complain.

I think the “Facebook is messing with your settings AGAIN” posts on the news feed are more effective, because instead of clicking “I agree”, you think, “god dammit Facebook” and read the thankfully concise info and change your settings.  DONE.


I Believe

Of course there is a magical being in the sky who gives us life.  Not something you’ll hear often from an atheist.

But we figured it out tens of thousands of years ago.  At some point, human beings developed enough intelligence to notice that something in the sky gave us life.  They could even see it.  A yellow circle.

When it was around, it gave warmth and light.  Two things essential to survival (yes, light included, because we depend on eyesight to find food and avoid predators).

But it wasn’t always there.  Sometimes it would be obscured by clouds, and cold rain would fall from the sky.  Humans were worried on those days.  Perhaps they were superstitious, thinking they had done something to upset the magical yellow circle in the sky.

They would have loved to have known more about it, but they didn’t have a way to learn.  So they prayed to it to always be there for them, and even sacrificed to it.  They argued over which acts angered the circle, and in groups decided what not to do, for of course, the circle was always watching them from the sky.

For ages these practices continued.  Many peoples started worshiping other natural elements, like rain for crops, and wind for calm seas.  They had no idea why these things happened.  They were like magic, and if prayer made a difference, even for peace of mind, what was the harm in that?

Eventually, humans did figure out how to learn about these “magics”.  We learned that the sun is a ball of fire, it comes and goes by the rotation of the earth, and about its effects of heat and light and even vitamin D.  We learned what causes wind, about the water cycle that causes rain, why we have seasons, what makes certain plants grow, and many more things.  These discoveries fall under the umbrella of “science”.

But by then, worship of the circle in the sky and other natural beings had taken other forms, as mythology evolved.  Mystical forces were called “gods”. Some were anthropomorphized; others had the forms of animals.  Great stories were written about these deities, and groups argued and fought with others who believed in different gods, just like how people would have argued over how to please (and not to anger) the all-powerful sun for giving us life, which is itself related to different systems of morals and ethics and lists of what thou shalt not do. Peoples’ superstitions remained with us, and though sacrifice is uncommon, prayer is a daily part of life for many people.

I believe this is how religion developed.

Fun vs Effort

I went surfing and it wasn’t great.  It just required so much paddling compared to the thrill of riding waves (if caught, and even then, standing up is tough).  So I started wondering about the fun of an activity vs the effort it requires.  I wondered if there was a ratio above which the activity becomes “worth it”.

Volleyball and golf are low-effort and lots of fun.  Squash, soccer, and ultimate are high-effort, but also fun.  Baseball isn’t as fun, but definitely requires less effort.

The issue of going to the gym to work out – not fun by any means, but still something I enjoy, ruins this whole idea.  There must be other factors.  Feeling of reward from good exercise and possibly endorphins.  And then level of competition, the company you’re around, etc.

It’s nice that things can’t be boiled down to just numbers.  Some concepts are just too complicated.  Life is complicated.  If it was so simple, it wouldn’t be worth doing.


Say you’re engaged, and because you’re religious, you and your partner are virgins.  Then your financee tells you she’s pregnant.  Not only that, but the father is some sort of “holy spirit”, rather than another man.  So she’s still technically a virgin.  Oh, and even though you’ll be married before then, she won’t have sex with you until after the baby’s born.  Right, and he’s the son of God.

I would love to know what would go through a Christian or Muslim guy’s mind if that happened to him today.


Some things that haven’t added up in my eyes:

Say I was good but my wife was not.  So I would go to heaven but she would go to hell.  But I love my wife.  It just wouldn’t be heaven if she wasn’t there.   Now what?  Does her soul get copied, and some android controls the part in my heaven, but she doesn’t know, and just suffers in hell?  I imagine her soul would have to get copied a lot of times.  Her friends and family would want her in their heavens too.

Wow a religious person might freak out at the thought of their soul being copied and used to make other people happy while they themselves rot in hell.  They would probably feel that that was unjust.  I heard that some serious criminals don’t believe they’re doing anything immoral.  I wonder how many of them would have cause for alarm.  There are some ridiculous things that are considered sins, like the one about wearing two different fabrics together.  That this discredits the Bible’s reliability of what would actually get you sent to hell makes sense, but then they really ought to change those ridiculous laws (example, the Toronto law that forbids dragging a dead horse down Yonge St. on a Sunday).  If that actually exists (I’m skeptical) then doesn’t that discredit our laws in a similar way to the Bible?

Ok, the debate could continue because we could just remove those sorts of laws.  But because the Bible is 2000 years old, nobody would agree to change it. And different sects already interpret the Bible differently.  And what if the Pope thinks that mixing fabrics is demonic?

If they did think about one silly Bible passage, they might scour the book for other outdated notions.  But if someone asked for the horse law to be repealed, the legal authorities would not read through every other law to see what others might be outdated.

Why not?” Is that even feasible?


Wow, I got sidetracked.  I don’t believe in souls, but the notion seems that they would be too precious to copy.  Another issue I have: what age is someone in heaven?  If I died now, I would hope to be my age.  But if I was 93, I would probably rather be younger than that in heaven.  And what if I’d had cancer, or broken all my ribs, or had a leg amputated? Who’s even to say?

But heaven is probably beyond the physical form.  Though I don’t even think that could happen.

OK, so it’s metaphorical. Your soul is happy, but we really mean the memory of you.  Which I do agree with, but it has nothing to do with religion. You’re still in the ground, but because you were a good person, we think fondly of you after you’re gone.  Can this be the new standard?

Rotisserie Channel

The Swiss Chalet rotisserie channel is essentially a 24-hour ad for Swiss Chalet.  But I haven’t heard anyone say, “What the hell is wrong with this picture?” or anything to that effect.

This is the kind of thing that 10 years ago, people thinking of it would have said, “Imagine if that existed, how messed up would that be?” or possibly, “How can we make this real and have people accept it?”

Seriously, I’m not sure if should congratulate Swiss Chalet or fear the future of advertising or media.

The Tooth Fairy

From what I can tell, the Tooth Fairy has at least some purpose.  I don’t remember what I felt when losing my teeth at age 7, but it’s certainly possible that some kids have a negative experience.  The Tooth Fairy seems like a way to improve this experience, because hey, free money!  Who needs a stupid tooth when I can buy candy with this dollar!  (Irony?)

What about Santa?  The fat guy who somehow gets into houses without chimneys – how on earth are parents explaining this part nowadays?  Not that a fat guy could have fit down a chimney in the first place, but maybe kids wouldn’t know that.  In fact, I’ll bet at least one kid has tried to climb up or down a chimney just to see if it’s possible.  But I digress.  Santa appears to have been popularized in our society in order to promote Coca-Cola, I mean, in order to make kids behave.  Be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents!

My argument here is why can’t it just be “Be good, or Mommy and Daddy won’t buy you any presents*“?  I wonder if there’s a psychological reason why it’s better for behavioural development for there to be some outside party evaluating all this.  And that’s assuming that the use of Santa Claus does in fact help matters (has there been a study done?)

From my education in psychology and pedagogy, external rewards such as presents may be an effective way to improve behaviour in the short term, but decrease the likelihood of good behaviour in the absence of such rewards.  So maybe Santa Claus is worthless after all, and parents should say “We’re getting you presents because we love you, but be nice, because other people matter.”

Back to the Tooth Fairy.  What makes this a good idea?  I wonder if children would accept the idea that their parents would give them money every time they lost a tooth.  I can’t think of anything better at the moment.

I’m done what I wanted to say, but I might as well add that the Easter Bunny is even more useless and unbelievable.  So a rabbit hides eggs all over the place?  Not a chicken?  Okay.  My dad never pulled that wool over our eyes.  He made the egg-hunt like a treasure hunt: each time you found eggs, they came with clues to where the next ones would be.  Love you, Dad.

* Parents referring to themselves in the third person is a topic for another day

An adult among undergrads

In the short years since I’ve graduated from university, either I’ve forgotten a *lot* about what it’s like to be an undergrad, or this generation of students is really different.


Today I was in our lab section.  I brought the lab that’s due today, and started working on the next one (due next week).  I quickly realized, by looking around, that most students in the class hadn’t finished the one due today.  Of course, right?  They had a few hours before it was due.  But some weren’t even close to finishing.  Okay, so they’re procrastinators.  I’m still like that for many things myself.

The worst part of all might be how hopeless they are with the lab directions.  The directions were written for the previous version of the software, and some minor changes had been made since then.  But so many students could not, or would not, figure out how to proceed.  If something didn’t work out exactly like the directions said, they would just stop, put up their hand, and wait for the TA.  But there’s one TA, and forty students doing this.  So they wait 10 minutes each time.

I can’t wait for next week, so I can see how long it takes them to finish the lab that I completed in about an hour, after asking only one question (to a fellow classmate who was also on lab #2).


In lecture, it’s just as bad.  They ask the professor questions about the labs that they should either solve themselves, or at the least go to his office hour, instead of taking time away from actually learning the theory.  It’s also painful to hear the professor answer a question for the sixth time.


Am I wrong in thinking that while we had rude or helpless idiots when I was in school, they were either quieter or fewer in number?

How I feel right now:  Old, because of this perceived difference.  Mature, because I am much more capable than most of my classmates.  Stress-free, because clearly this class is not going to cause me any grief.  And sad, because of the number of students who are struggling in what a lot of them have called a “bird course”.

Televised games

What games would people watch on TV?  They probably all exist already in some fashion, but here are some thoughts:

Televised Chess
Televised Bridge
Televised Scrabble
Televised Poker (nobody would ever watch this, right?)
Televised Call of Duty
Televised Magic: The Gathering
Televised Beer Pong

When I thought about things like poker and darts, I wondered where the line is drawn between “game” and “sport”, and also “activity”.  Is darts a sport?  If a sport involves physical ability, including dexterity, then beer pong is just as much a sport as darts.  And considering “activity”: I would think that snowboarding and biking are sports when you race or do tricks in competition, and activities otherwise.  It follows then that individual things can be “activities” but team things can’t.  No matter how little you care about winning, I would still call volleyball and rugby “sports”.  Golf is some sort of exception, because playing a round alone, even if you don’t keep score, I believe would still qualify as a sport.

And now I can’t stop thinking about this.

Pizza chains

What do the following intersections have in common? Queen and Bathurst, Woodbine and Danforth, St Clair and Vaughan, Gerrard and Greenwood, Church and Wellesley? Answer below.

Today I learned Pizza Nova, a pizza chain based in Ontario, is family-owned and operated. They’ve been my favourite pizza place since I was a kid. There was a Pizza Pizza across the street, but of course we always chose the better pizza. The thin, crisp crust with fantastic toppings? Hell yes.

So why is Pizza Pizza evidently the most popular pizza in Ontario? They don’t have the best pizza (it’s really just all dough), they’re not the only chain that lets you order online, and they don’t have the best deals (Domino’s has much better pizza and fantastic prices). So I can’t figure it out.

Some ideas of why they’re successful:
They marketed pretty well. The 967-11-11 song was really catchy. But I preferred 4-3-9-oh-oh-oh-oh Pizza Nova any day.
I think they employ(ed) some business strategies that make their chain the default choice. Especially for large orders; it seems like everyone buys Pizza Pizza for large functions, and then it’s in people’s minds when they next order? I don’t know too much about the psychology of marketing and consumer choice.
They place their stores in great locations: the corner lot. Visible from about twice as many places, whatever it costs for a corner lot is probably worth it. Most Pizza Pizza stores I know are at corners. This is the answer to the question at the start of the post.

What I do like about Pizza Pizza:
– the dipping sauce
– when they first introduced fries to the menu, they called them Fries Fries.

What I prefer about almost every other chain:
– the pizza, i.e. the whole reason you’re getting food in the first place