Gotcha! This is why piracy happens


This summer, I took a two-week long course on systematic reviews and meta-analytic techniques for which there was some required software, in this case, Stata. As a McGill student, I was encouraged to buy the student version, which was about $50 for “Stata Small.” Not bad. I’ve paid more for textbooks. So I got out my credit card, bought the license, installed it on my computer, and ran the very first example command of the course. I immediately got a string of red letter error text.

The error message was telling me that my license did not allow me enough variables to complete the command. I checked the license, and it said I was allowed 120 variables. I checked the “Variable manager” in Stata, and I had only assigned 11 variables. (I checked the variable limit beforehand in fact, and made sure that none of the data sets that we’d be working with had more than 120 variables. None of them came close to that limit.)

So I emailed Stata technical support. It turns out that the meta-analysis package for Stata creates “hidden variables.” Lots of them, apparently. So many that the software cannot accomplish the most basic commands. Then they tried to up-sell me to “Stata SE.” For $100 more, they said, they would send me a license for Stata that would allow me to run the meta-analysis package—for realsies this time.

I asked for a refund and decided that if I really needed Stata, I would use the copy that’s installed on the lab computers. (Now I’m just using the meta package in R, which does everything Stata does, just with a bit more effort.)

For the record: I am perfectly fine with paying for good software. I am not okay with a one-time purchase turning me into a money-pump. I thought that the “small” student license would work. All their documentation suggested it would. If I had upgraded to “Stata SE,” would that have actually met my needs, or would they have forced me to upgrade again later, after I’d already made Stata a part of my workflow?

It probably would have been okay, but the “gotcha” after the fact soured me on the prospect of sending them more money, and provided all the incentive I need to find a way to not use Stata.


A few years ago, I bought a number of pieces of classical music through the iTunes Store. I shopped around, compared different performances, and found recordings that I really liked. This was back when the iTunes store had DRM on their music.

I’ve recently switched to Linux, and now much of the music that I legally bought and paid for can’t be read by my computer. Apple does have a solution for me, of course! For about $25, I can subscribe to a service of theirs that will allow me to download a DRM-free version of the music that I already paid for.

This is why I won’t even consider buying television programmes through the iTunes Store: It’s not that I think that I will want to re-watch the shows over and over and I’m afraid of DRM screwing that up for me. It’s because I’ve had some nasty surprises from iTunes in the past, and I can borrow the DVD’s from the Public Library for free.

For the record: I do not mind paying for digital content. But I won’t send you money if I think there’s a “gotcha” coming after the fact.

I’m really trying my best

People who produce good software or music should be compensated for their work. I don’t mind pulling out my wallet to help make that happen. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being tricked, especially if I’m actually making an effort in good faith to actually pay for something.

Since DRM is almost always fairly easily circumvented, it only punishes those who pay for digital content. And this is why I’m sympathetic to those who pirate software, music, TV shows, etc.

Yes, it’s racist

Judge Eliana Marengo recently told another human being that she had to be stripped of her identity and publicly humiliated in order to have her case heard in a court in Québec. That is to say, the judge refused to hear the case while she was wearing a hijab.

For clarity, Article 13 of the regulations of the Court of Quebec make no reference to headscarves. This was just one judge’s decision to make life harder for another human being. And it was racist.

Wait, how was it racist?

This is a point that people keep refusing to understand. I have written previously about how you can be substantially racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. without ever actually making reference to a person’s race, sex, orientation, gender, etc. This is exactly the same thing.

A policy that makes life harder for one group of people is discriminatory against that group, regardless of how obliquely that group is singled out in the wording of the policy itself. And it’s still discriminatory even if that policy contains an ostensibly non-racist/non-sexist/etc. counter-example to ward off suspicions of racism, sexism, etc. (Cf. the Charter of Values and conspicuously large crucifixes).

It is laughable that Marengo invoked equality to justify her racist abuse of power. She deigned to instruct us in righteousness by telling us, “The same rules need to be applied to everyone.” To get an idea of how the rules are applied to everyone in Québec, I have compiled Table 1, below.

White people do religious stuff in the public sphere in Québec all the time. Nobody minds. Nobody gets upset. Certainly nobody refuses to give them the basic justice that all humans are due. But when one private person of colour wears a hijab to court, suddenly a) it’s fair game to publicly humiliate them and strip their identity, and b) it’s hitting below the belt to call it “racist” when it happens.

Table 1: A convenience sample of conspicuous religious accommodations in the province of Québec, indexed by race

Religious thing Private or public? Who did it? (Race) Is it okay in Québec?
Prominent crucifix in legislature Public White Okay!
Giant cross overlooking biggest city in province Public White Okay!
Big white cross dominating the provincial flag Public White Okay!
Nearly every street and city named after a Christian saint Public White Okay!
Private person wearing hijab in court Private POC “This is unacceptable! Religious people are always demanding more and more accommodations. This is not about race at all!”

James Bond is super-sketchy and homophobic toward lesbians

Quick summary of how racist James Bond is

I recently finished reading Goldfinger, which is in the Public Domain in Canada, and thus free and legal for Canadians to download from Project Gutenberg Canada. Before I get to the homophobia, I think it’s relevant to report that Bond refers to Oddjob or other Koreans as “apes” or “lower than an ape” on no less than five different occasions—for the interest of those keeping score at home.

James Bond and Lesbians

There are two female characters in Goldfinger: Tilly Masterton and Pussy Galore. Masterton doesn’t reciprocate Bond’s sexual advances, which is explained as follows.

Bond thought she [Galore] was superb and so, he noticed, did Tilly Masterton who was gazing at Miss Galore with worshipping eyes and lips that yearned. Bond decided that all was now clear to him about Tilly Masterton.

So it turns out that both the female characters are Lesbians with a capital L. (Seriously, he capitalises the L every time.) Tough luck for Bond, right? Not so fast! In my previous blog post, I consider the possible meanings of the following quote from chapter 17.

Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.

Which I understand might be a reference to the rape myth—the idea that if you force yourself on someone, they’ll eventually like it.

Unfortunately, during the action scene, Masterton didn’t stay with Bond as he told her to.

The girl’s hand tugged at him. She screamed angrily, ‘No, No. Stop! I want to stay close to Pussy. I’ll be safe with her.’

Bond shouted back, ‘Shut up, you little fool! Run like hell!’ But now she was dragging at him, checking his speed. Suddenly she tore her hand out of his and made to dart into an open Pullman door.

This was a bad life-choice for her—trying to find her Lesbian love interest at a time of crisis. And we learn how much of a bad choice it was only 10 paragraphs later.

The little figure still lay sprawled where she had fallen. Bond knelt beside her. The broken-doll angle of the head was enough. He felt for her pulse. He got up. He said softly, ‘Poor little bitch. She didn’t think much of men.’ He looked defensively at Leiter. ‘Felix, I could have got her away if she’d only followed me.

If only she had stayed with Bond! The gentle but firm hand of a man was what she needed. Not some Lesbian. So I guess Goldfinger is supposed to be a cautionary tale? “Don’t be too capital-L Lesbian, or you’ll end up dead?”

Anyway, after the action is all over, Galore throws herself into Bond’s arms, and the creepiest pillow-talk imaginable happens:

She lay in the crook of Bond’s arm and looked up at him. She said, not in a gangster’s voice, or a Lesbian’s, but in a girl’s voice, ‘Will you write to me in Sing Sing?’

Bond looked down into the deep blue-violet eyes that were no longer hard, imperious. He bent and kissed them lightly. He said, ‘They told me you only liked women.’

She said, ‘I never met a man before.’ The toughness came back into her voice. ‘I come from the South. You know the definition of a virgin down there? Well, it’s a girl who can run faster than her brother. In my case I couldn’t run as fast as my uncle. I was twelve. That’s not so good, James. You ought to be able to guess that.’

Lesbianism explained! Galore’s uncle turned her into a lesbian, and now Bond will turn her straight again with the sexytimes that she always wanted. And the book ends with Bond’s “passionate, rather cruel mouth waiting above hers,” and Bond’s mouth “ruthlessly” coming down over hers.

So, there we go. Somebody wanna write some good non-racist and queer-positive fan-fiction to get this taste out of my mouth?

In other news

I think there’s a typo. In chapter 20, it should be “Cary Grant” instead of “Gary Grant.”

James Bond is super-racist

I have always been a big fan of the Public Domain. For works that are still under copyright, I feel like I am (and legally speaking, I think I might be) just renting them. This is unsettling to me for a few reasons.

First off, there’s always the possibility that publishers could claw back books from my e-reader that I rightfully paid for, by doing something like deleting them remotely. This is unlikely, but it has happened before.

Also, I don’t generally write fan-fiction, but I like the idea of fan-fiction. Some of it is better than the original even. While I don’t write much of the stuff myself, I do make cultural references either in conversation, or writing or blogging, and there’s a difference between making a cultural reference to a non-Public Domain thing and making a cultural reference to a Public Domain thing. When you draw an analogy to a Harry Potter character, for example, it comes across as corporate. Like you’re an advertisement for Warner Brothers. You know that for anyone to “get” your reference, they have to have lined the pockets of either WB or Bloomsbury Publishing. If I make reference to Moby Dick in an essay, though, it doesn’t have that same “corporate sell-out” flavour.

And that’s why I was so excited by the fact that this January, James Bond himself entered the Public Domain in Canada. That’s right, Ian Fleming died on August 12, 1964. Since he’s been dead for 50 years, that means that in Canada, there are no laws protecting his intellectual property anymore. Of course, the movies, the soundtracks, and everything else associated with James Bond will be under copyright forever, but the original novels by Ian Fleming and the characters within them, including James Bond, are now fair game.

So when Project Gutenberg Canada announced that Goldfinger is available for download (free and legal for Canadians), I got myself a copy. I was prepared to a certain extent for the novel to be a … umm … product of its time. After all, Bond is a fast-living, smooth-talking, hard-drinking, womanising secret agent man. That’s kind of his thing.

Then I got to this description of Oddjob:

He was a chunky flat-faced Japanese, or more probably Korean, with a wild, almost mad glare in dramatically slanting eyes that belonged in a Japanese film rather than in a Rolls Royce on a sunny afternoon in Kent. He had the snout-like upper lip that sometimes goes with a cleft palate, but he said nothing and Bond had no opportunity of knowing whether his guess was right. In his tight, almost bursting black suit and farcical bowler hat he looked rather like a Japanese wrestler on his day off.

Which was unsettling. But then it got worse:

‘Here–‘ Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean who caught it eagerly–‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.

Those two were pretty bad, but I think par for the course for 1950’s racial sensitivity. The next quote takes it a bit further than the last two.

Bond intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Oddjob and any other Korean firmly in his place, which, in Bond’s estimation, was rather lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.

It’s not just a casual statement of implied inferiority. He’s explicit about exactly how he feels about Koreans. And in case you thought that Bond was just being angry because he got beat up by Oddjob, he doubles down on the whole “ape” thing later on.

There’s only one way out of here and Oddjob, that Korean ape, is guarding it.

I haven’t quite finished the book, although it’s pretty short, so I imagine I’ll be done tomorrow or the next day, depending on how my métro ride goes. I may have to update this post with more Ways In Which James Bond Is Super-Racist. For right now, I’ll leave you with this weird homophobic thing:

Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.

I really don’t know exactly how to interpret that. Maybe a straight guy can fill me in on what sexual challenge it is that all beautiful Lesbians have for men?

In defense of #selfies

Someone felt good enough about her appearance that she took a picture. Let us all ridicule her for that.
Someone felt good enough about her appearance that she took a picture. Let us all ridicule her for that. HA HA.

It is fashionable these days to tease people who take selfies, or to look down one’s nose at those who do take selfies, or to dismiss them as juvenile, feminine, vain, or generally bad for reasons unspecified.

You’ve seen it before. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. You see someone pull out a phone to take a selfie, and you make a joke about it, or someone complains about how “everyone is always taking selfies.”

There’s a sort of a snobbish “I’m better than that” attitude that comes along with all these condemnations. The commentator looks around after the comment was made, grinning in a most self-satisfied way, as if he has said something most original and daring. There’s a smug, superior, aren’t-I-clever-for-going-against-the-grain vibe that I get from people who say things like that, and I just can’t deal with it anymore.

First off, when you condemn selfies and those who take them, you are not saying anything clever or original. It’s not funny. It’s not illuminating. You haven’t picked out some interesting and unremarked-upon feature of human experience that no-one else has noticed. (Not that I’m claiming that any of the following ideas are original to myself either—plenty of other people have had reasoned pro-selfie positions. Consider this more of a rant than a claim to an original philosophy.)

Further, you are not some brave individualistic rebel among a flock of narcissistic sheeple. If anything, this makes you more like a corporate shill, helping to ensure that a new generation of young people is intimidated into believing that they have good reason to be insecure (and thus prepared to spend money to make that feeling go away). There are, after all, entire industries whose business model depends on encouraging our insecurities and preying on them. So if you’re feeling smug about being the lone wolf who’s bucking a terrifying trend of vanity, you should consider that every single person you’re criticising has been told “you’re not good enough and you should feel bad about it” in a million subtle (and also a million not-so-subtle-and-corporately-funded) ways for their entire life.

When you say things like, “No one wants to see your selfies,” you are not actually commenting on the value of the photographs that you’re disparaging, even if you think that’s what you’re doing. You’re coming closer to making a commentary on your own value as a friend, though. With a statement like that, you’re saying, “I don’t care about you, how you look, or what you’re doing. I don’t care that you felt good about yourself today.” And when you say things like that, you’re telling everyone in earshot that they shouldn’t expect positive feedback or encouragement from you.

It’s the same sort of attitude that you get from people who say things like, “Don’t tweet about what you had for breakfast,” or “You don’t need to make a Facebook post every time you go for a run.” You know what? If you care that little, no one’s forcing you to use social media. You can leave the party if you’re not enjoying it.

And this is why the whole thing is hypocrisy: When you say, “How egotistical—my friend posted a selfie,” what you are really saying is “I don’t care about my friend—if they’re feeling good about their appearance, or what they’re doing, or if they just want some positive attention from their friends, then that is unimportant or offensive to me somehow.” And that attitude—trying to make someone feel bad, just so you can have the satisfaction of looking down your nose at them—is so much more self-absorbed than posting a selfie.

As for me, I do care about my friends, and when I see a friend’s selfie go by on my Twitter feed, I want my first thought to be “Aww, isn’t that cute,” and not “How can I make that person feel bad?” That’s the kind of person I want to be.

So I started learning Lojban .ui

This Friday past, I started learning Lojban. For the non-initiate, Lojban is a constructed language based on predicate logic that is syntactically unambiguous. I’d known about it for years, probably hearing about it first on CBC, maybe 10 years ago. It’s the sort of thing that shows up in Dinosaur Comics or in XKCD periodically. Up until this weekend, the existence of Lojban had mostly been one of those “cocktail party facts,” but then I finally took the plunge. After 1 weekend of working on it, I’m about 35% of the way through Lojban for Beginners, having downloaded it to my Kobo for reference during the car ride to Stratford.

It’s often billed as being an ideal language for fields like law, science or philosophy, due to its unambiguous and culturally neutral nature. So I set out to find out certain specialised terms from my field, bioethics, and it turns out that they mostly don’t exist yet. This, of course, offers some exciting opportunities for a grad student. :)

I’ve convinced a few people in Montréal to learn Lojban with me, and even found a Montrealer who speaks Lojban on a IRC channel. (Yes, IRC still exists!) We may “ckafi pinxe kansa,” as they say in Lojban, apparently.

If you too want to get in on the ground floor of Lojban Montréal, let me know!

Dr Susan’s counselling service for para-magical, epi-paranormal and time-travel adjacent children and young adults

Dr Susan's Counselling Service
Dr Susan’s Counselling Service

For this year’s upcoming NaNoWriMo, I think I have settled on an idea and a title.

A recurring trope in sci-fi and fantasy is the minor character who significantly helps the main character to accomplish a fantastical and difficult-to-believe goal (e.g. returning to her own non-dystopian timeline, saving a magical kingdom, etc.), and does so often at great cost to herself, without any hope of participating in that victory, and with little or no proof that anything of importance happened at all. I want to write a series of short stories about this sort of character, and a therapist whose job it is to help them pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, after they discover that they’re living in a dystopian timeline bad enough that a time-traveller needed their help to go back in time to prevent it, leaving them hopelessly behind.

The title will be Dr Susan’s counselling service for para-magical, epi-paranormal and time-travel adjacent children and young adults.

Collected #XmasTips to help you Christmas better next year

I'm ever so good at Christmas!
I’m ever so good at Christmas!

I keep getting fan-mail from people asking me how it is that I’m so good at Christmas. I can’t give away all my secrets, but this year I’ve made a conscious effort to tweet when I have a good holiday tip that other people can use to make this terrible season a little bit better.

  • Buy a Christmas tree that branches into two at the top. That way, you can put an angel on one branch and a devil on the other. (Dec 8)
  • When a Christmas song includes “fa la la la la,” that means the original lyrics were censored. Add your own obscenities back in! (Dec 9)
  • Tired of Christmas already? Get in a fight with family now and cancel it—then, take the money and have 2 Christmases next year! (Dec 11)
  • Wrapping up a gift of a pair of mittens in an old iPad or MacBook box is an economical way to spice up your gift-giving! (Dec 11)
  • Next year, Christmas falls on Friday the 13th—tell your friends and family about it now, before you think it through very clearly! (Dec 13)
  • Nephew asking for a new PS4? Wrap up an old PS2 and give it to them with instructions to play it twice! (Dec 18)
  • Express strong disapproval of anyone who doesn’t like Christmas! Nothing says “holiday spirit” like stifling dissent. (Dec 21)
  • Unwelcome holiday houseguest? Play on repeat and discuss the homoerotic potential of the Michael Bublé version of “Santa Baby!” (Dec 22)
  • Need a costume for your Christmas party? Nothing says “Christmas” like “pregnant out of wedlock!” (Dec 23)
  • Hurry and clean up as fast as you can before they arrive or your family won’t love you as much! (Dec 23)
  • Mass infanticide, although part of the Christmas story, is best left to fantasy only. (Dec 24)

Of course, by the time this post is published it will be too late for you to abort your impending holiday failure, but if you heed my suggestions next year, you may also be able to Christmas like a pro and win the respect and adulation of your peers and familial relations!

Reading Milton’s Paradise Lost

One of the nice things about using an e-reader is the abundance of free Public Domain books. There are a lot of them. I always had access to them even before I got my Kobo, through Project Gutenburg, but really, who wants to read a book off a computer screen?

I chose to tackle Paradise Lost because it’s one of those books that “everyone has read,” which is to say, it’s a book that everyone makes reference to, whether they’ve read it or not and whether they realise it or not. The book is written in the kind of beautiful and florid prose that would be absolutely pretentious if someone tried to copy today, but because it’s Paradise Lost, Milton can get away with it.

The most interesting thing to me was discovering famous clichés in the work that I didn’t know beforehand were famous clichés from Paradise Lost. The most famous example is probably the phrase “all hell broke loose,” which now appears in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction. It’s number six: “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose’. This rule doesn’t require an explanation.” An angel is mocking Satan for leaving hell and he asks why the rest of the fallen angels didn’t come with him when he left.

Another unexpected one for me was finding the phrase, “His Dark Materials,” the title for an anti-Christian children’s book trilogy in Paradise Lost. I knew that Pullman had a literary background and that he drew from a number of religious sources to write his books, but it was still a bit of a shock to see that.

One last thing that I noticed: Eve was a Parselmouth. Possibly Adam too. Like they say, “Everyone knows that’s the mark of a dark wizard.”

Solutions to some two-mover chess problems by W T Pierce and J Pierce

Chess Problem Example
Chess Problem Example

My grandfather taught me how to play chess when I was very young. He made a huge, beautiful chess set out of wood in his basement, and over the course of my childhood, he gave me books with little mathematical puzzles and chess problems in them. Later on in life he denied having taught me how to play, and I don’t know if it was because of modesty or Alzheimer’s.

This past weekend, I found a book of public domain chess problems (download the PDF, not the epub, if you’re interested). It reminds me of Grandpa Searles. I’ve been working through them for pleasure. They are surprisingly challenging, and doubly so if you’re tired. I probably spent a solid two hours trying to figure out #4 on Sunday afternoon, without success. I must have been tired though—Monday morning on the metro, it took less than 5 minutes. In fact, the solution turned out to be one that I considered multiple times on Sunday. Go figure.

What are “chess problems?”

A chess problem is a puzzle, somewhat akin to a Sudoku. You are given a chess board illustrating a game already in progress—nearly done, even. You are told which side you are playing and you are told how many moves to checkmate. See the image attached at the beginning of this post for an example of a very difficult five-mover chess problem.

Why I like chess problems, but I’m not that good at chess

In a chess game, there is no easy way for you to tell how many moves you are away from checkmate. The only way to know is to think through all the possibilities. In some cases there will be constraints on the number of possible moves by a player which make it easier to calculate. In most cases, there will be a staggering number of possible moves, and depending on the other player’s actions, you might be further away from or closer to checkmate.

Why I am bad at chess
Why I am bad at chess

So faced with a complex problem with this, my brain usually resorts to the strategy as illustrated in the image attached to this paragraph. I probably use such a simplistic algorithm because for almost every move, the likelihood that I will notice that there is a way to force a checkmate more than one move in advance is vanishingly small, and so I focus on intermediate goals instead. I’m sure a real chess player has the goal of checkmate in mind from the first move. I don’t think about forcing a checkmate until it’s already inevitable.

This is why I suck at real chess games: My estimation of the value of forethought is outweighed by my pessimism regarding how much effort it would actually take to get anything meaningful out of it.

In a chess problem, on the other hand, I know there’s a solution to be had in a certain number of moves (unless there’s a typo or something), and so I will take the time to work through all the possibilities. It’s something both frustrating and satisfying. It is immensely gratifying when you find the solution, and the more frustrating it is to find it, the better it is when you write down the solution and get to smugly declare, “checkmate.”

When you “beat” a chess problem, it’s much better than beating a human opponent, because you know that the chess problem is not “having an off-day,” and it can’t say after the fact, “I let you win” or anything like that. I also like chess problems because you can feel really good about solving one. In a chess game, you have to be careful about taking too much pleasure in winning, or you come across as a jerk.

Solutions to some two-mover problems

As promised, here are some solutions to the problems in the book, Chess Problems, by W T Pierce and J Pierce. I’m not going to list all the solutions. That would ruin the fun for you! Also, I haven’t finished them all yet. I may or may not post more solutions when I have them. I’m pretty sure that these ones are correct, although when I copied #1 from my notebook to my blog, I noticed that it wasn’t correct. (I have since fixed it, I believe.)

  1. Ng3+ Kxe6; Bc8#
  2. Nc4+ Kxc6; b5#
  3. d3+ Kxd4; Rb3#

Let me know if you find problems with these solutions (very possible), or if you want to add your own solutions to later problems. Do you have other public domain collections of chess problems to share?