Saturday, November 24, 2007


Recent list work: #9, #13 (I did it today. Whoo!), #22 (finished!), #39 (work in progress), #69 (Jean seemed inordinately pleased with some chicken and potatoes I brought her while she was on crutches), #69 (Catch 22 is finally done. Also, Fathers and Sons, which I liked), #90.

Time has a very interesting poll about morality at the moment. Please go look at it first; it will take you less than 5 minutes to answer it.

(waiting for you to go answer the poll questions)

(no, really, go do so)


I'd heard about this poll before, but this time I get to see the exact scenarios laid out. My answers, for those who are interested, are: yes, yes, yes, no, no.

In the first scenario, the baby's crying will lead to not only my death, but also to the deaths of others, including itself. Obviously, you try other means to quiet the baby first: give it something to suck on, rock it, change its diaper, whatever. But the scenario states that the baby can't be quieted in any other way. If that baby continues to scream, it's going to die very soon no matter what. Better that it be just the baby that dies, and not take me and the other refugees with it. I'm smothering the baby.

In the second scenario, if someone isn't kicked off the lifeboat we're going to capsize and all die. If one individual is already grievously injured and bound to die soon anyways, and killing him just a little bit sooner preserves my life and those of others, I'm pushing him out of the boat. I've got a strong survival instinct.

In the third scenario, we have a group of 5 idiots on one train track not paying attention to oncoming vehicles, and 1 individual on another doing the same. They're all equally stupid, and none of them are guaranteed to die soon if I don't send the train at them. I therefore bow to the notion that 1 death is better than 5 deaths, and send the train at the lone individual.

In the fourth scenario, we have the same 5 idiots unaware of an oncoming train, but I'm on a bridge over the track with a stranger, and if I push him off the train will stop before it hits the 5 clueless. In this case, the idiots on the track are more culpable than the guy on the bridge with me, who is entirely blameless. I'm not going to make him pay the consequences of the idiots being idiots. I'll yell for them to get out of the way and maybe throw rocks at them if I think I have a chance of getting their attention, but I'm not going to kill an innocent bystander to save them.

In the 5th case, the guy in the catapult is just as innocent as the guy on the bridge. So, I won't kill him to save 5 idiots. I'm assuming he's not been sentenced to sit in the catapult as payment for a crime, nor is he being an idiot and playing in a catapult which has obviously been constructed to fling people at oncoming trains.

Of the people who had responded when I wrote this, 70% agreed with me in the first case, 56% in the second, 79% in the 3rd, 60% in the 4th, and 52% in the 5th. I'm surprised more people are OK with killing the baby than the presumably adult lifeboat passenger, but maybe they care that the baby probably won't really understand its coming death while the lifeboat passenger will.

What are your answers?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Shoe size as a marker for something other than what you might think

In many ways, I'm used to being unusual.

There are the obvious personality aspects here to consider. I'm interested in politics, but am not a member of a political party. I'm a definite nerd, but I play several sports...and yet don't enjoy watching anyone else do so, outside of the Olympics. I'm sarcastic while not being mean about it, wholesome while very libertarian in my views of what's acceptable behavior, and one of those adults who enjoys spending time on a swing. Clearly, these are not all typical traits.

Then there are the physical traits. My eyes change color multiple times each day, an inherited useless mutant power than my mother had as well. My body temperature is unusually low, and combined with what I assume is relatively poor circulation to my extremities, my hands are often perceived by other people to be colder than the air. (My toes are often colder than my fingers, but fewer people come into contact with those). My hearing, perhaps in an effort to make up for my relatively weak eyesight, is off the charts, routinely causing me to flinch from noises others don't react to, and possibly don't hear.

But nothing quite drives home the physical oddity of being me like attempting to buy clothing.

For one, I am somewhat counter to the standard American trend of trying to achieve seal-like proportions. While I have managed to gain almost 25 pounds in 2 years, I'm technically still underweight. For part of this year's Halloween costume, I bought a children's large t shirt, and had to actively work at shrinking it to make it fit. This is somewhat disturbing as a roughly 6 foot tall guy. I typically have to buy my belt in the children's department, as there aren't small enough ones in the men's department. One of these times, I'm going to just give up and buy a cloth Batman belt. Nothing says grown up professional quite like superheroes holding up your pants.

In theory, we guys have it much easier when it comes to buying clothing than women do. Women's clothing comes in sizes which bear little relationship to anything physical. As best as I can tell, they are primarily even integers, but sometimes include 0 or 00 (and if 0 and 00 are different from each other, one of them has to not fit the category of even integers). Clearly, those aren't capable of being physical realities, and may be related to the lumber industry's conception of a 2 by 4, which doesn't measure 2 of anything by 4 of the same thing. One of my high school friends had her prom dress taken into a size 0, and it was still loose enough that she had to wrap herself in double sided tape to not end up doing a stripper impersonation. She may have been thin, but she definitely had a positive mass.

Men, on the hand, have clothing measurements for many things based on inches (at least for those of us resisting the metric system. The US and Libya, partners in solidarity for the Imperial measurement system). Pants come with numbers representing circumference of waist and length of inseam. Dress shirts are measured in circumference of neck and length of sleeve. Under this system, all a guy would need to do is find out those 4 measurements, and he would be able to tell if a piece of clothing would fit.

Of course, that's not how it works. I blame the Baby Boomers, and not just because I like blaming things on my parents' generation.

The general explanation here is that the Baby Boomers are economically powerful, aging, and somewhat vain. They don't really want to admit that they aren't the same size that they were in high school or their 20s. Therefore, clothing companies have catered to their vanity, first with "relaxed fit" sizes, and then just by blatantly lying on the alleged dimension. This, in turn, has eroded the previous pressure to conform to market standards, so now not only the waist is mismarked, so is the inseam. In jeans these days, I can vary from a 29 to a 32 in the waist, and a 30 to a 34 in the inseam. I presume I don't fluctuate over a range of 4 inches in height in the several minutes it takes to walk to the next store and try on a pair, so blatant lying in the packaging seems a more likely culprit.

However, despite all my physical oddities, I always was able to take comfort in one speck of normalness: my feet. My feet are the average and also modal size of feet of the adult man in this country (10.5 shoe size), so there are virtually always shoes available in my size. This helps a lot in the rented footwear industry (a largely unrecognized affiliation of pastime activities, including but not limited to bowling and ice skating), as well as in actually purchasing shoes, as the market will demand that most styles be produced in my size.

My confidence in my normal feet, however, has been severely damaged lately.

I bought a pair of new sneakers yesterday, all the better go about sneaking. I'm not quite a ninja, but I'm working on that whole stealthiness thing. Also, it's nice to have shoes with shock absorption properties. I found a nice pair of shoes, and tried one of them on. It seemed quite comfortable, and the price was right, so I bought it. Also, I bought its mate, without trying it on.

Apparently, this was a mistake.

I discovered today that the left shoe does indeed fit perfectly. The right shoe, on the other hand, is too small. Even worse, it's also too small on the the right foot.

I have come up with several explanations for this. For one, the right shoe could have been mismarked. This seems implausible, as it seems to be the same length as the left one, but it's possible. Another is that I have a previously undiscovered physical freakishness. Alternately, evil gnomes could have caused my right foot to swell today for no discernible reason, and thus feel too big for the shoe. And, of course, there is the possibility that since it was obtained from an outlet store, the shoe may have been defective.

In any event, I plan on returning to the scene of the crime, to see if I can find a version of that shoe which actually fits my right foot. Hopefully, I shall be able to convince the store people to allow me to exchange either the right shoe or the entire pair for one that fits. Otherwise, I shall have to look up the website I've heard about allowing people with mismatched feet to trade shoes with similarly mismatched individuals. And, if so, I'll have to join their ranks with yet another unusual feature.

And, hey, if nothing else, potentially yet another useless mutant power.

UPDATE: The exchange was successful, though they didn't have any size 11 in stock. I tried on a size 11.5, and they seemed to work, so now I have one pair of slightly larger shoes than my others. My range of useless mutant powers has not yet expanded in ways that I know about.