< More Coffee Please >
Book review: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, by Violet Blue

sggp coverI read a review copy of this (it comes out August 25), so the text isn’t necessarily final. Still, I’m quite confident that I can recommend it: it’s a good overview of basic privacy principles and techniques. It pays special attention to the ways in which girls and women are targeted online.

There’s a useful list of bits of information you should never share online, coverage of data collation practices, a good discussion of privacy settings, and some ninja tricks for people who want to go beyond the basics.

I disagree with Blue on only one point: she recommends setting up an autoresponder to tell people you’ve changed your email address. I disagree. They’re a blunt tool and — unless you can set your email program only to autorespond to those in your contact list — provide every spammer and scammer who hits your old address with a direct path to your new one.

I’m also a little worried that some of the techniques might require more specifics. Often the instructions given are quite high-level, and I wonder if the average reader of this book will be tech-savvy enough to follow them easily. But that’s a minor quibble and one that can probably be resolved by some quick Googling on Average Reader’s part.

I’ll add one very recent addition to the useful-tools collection: I’ve been testing the EFF’s browswer add-on PrivacyBadger for the past week and have been very pleased with it.

Overall, this book is a quick read and sensible advice. It hits the mark, emphasizes the importance of paying attention to privacy without being judgmental, and provides a collection of useful tools and resources. I’ll get a copy for my daughter.

  • Comments Closed
On touring high schools

Because my child is rather unbelievably already in grade 8, in the past couple of months we’ve seen, I think, twelve high schools, both public and private. The tours (and the schools) have varied from appalling to excellent. During the appalling ones I spent my time thinking about what makes a tour (and a school) good.

Things that are promising

  • The principal/admissions person/greeter at the door breezes past parents to greet the child first. Correct — it’s her schooling and her ultimate decision. We’re just along for the ride.
  • A minimum of adults speak — they trust the kids (of all ages) and let them do their thing. Bonus points if the female student president is clearly gay, ESL, beloved by all students, and intending a career as an engineer. And is followed by a grade 9 who’s been at the school for perhaps six weeks and might say anything at all about her experience.
  • Show me what you do instead of telling me.
  • Talk about what you do with kids while they are there instead of telling me all the things they do after they leave you. High school is not just a waiting room for university.
  • Talk about your teaching in terms of the kids’ accomplishments (“last year the kids won x robotics competition” or “we have three IB Biology classes because so many kids signed up”), not in terms of your own accomplishments and ego (“we win so many teaching awards!”).
  • Sell the experience your school offers. Tell me what you’re good at and which niche you fill. Don’t spend all your time talking about how hard it is to get in. Show me the stats and move on.
  • Talk about fit. Your school may be a great school for somebody else but not for my kid, and that’s fine, and we should all be clear about that and comfortable with it. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Stick to the niche you (hopefully) told me about.
  • Demonstrate your culture, don’t just talk about it. If you say you’re inclusive, let me see and talk to kids of all different kinds.
  • Show me that your student supports are proactive and not just reactive. Do you wait until kids are in trouble to offer help? Yeah, not good enough — why did you let them get into that state in the first place if your supports are so excellent and you know your kids so well?
  • Provide a program for the tour to tell me what will happen when (and, ideally, where, and even more ideally, in advance of my arrival) and who will speak.

Things that are not promising

  • You get the day wrong on your website so we miss your tour, and you do nothing but post a “sorry!” note on the door.
  • You’re very expensive but only ~80% of parents think you’re providing “good or excellent” education. Yet you trumpet this rather low figure.
  • Nobody is at the front door to welcome and guide visitors. If it’s a tour day, let me know I’m in the right place and at the right door by posting someone there.
  • There is nobody anywhere to guide visitors. Having one person inside who points vaguely down the hallway when the room I need to find is in fact upstairs, around the corner and down another long hallway isn’t helpful.
  • Your PowerPoint is a big series of “how not to use PowerPoint” examples. During one such horrorshow I leaned over to M and said “soon he’ll say ‘I know this is too small to read, but…'” and it was the very next slide.
  • Nobody seems to know who should be speaking and what they should be saying. They repeat some things and leave other important things out and argue about who is going to talk next or forget people entirely. Don’t waste my time or my kid’s.
  • Principal fails to introduce herself. Who is that mysterious person talking?
  • No students speak OR students who speak are obviously not reading their own words. I don’t want to hear schmaltzy prepared statements, I want to hear kids talk about their real experiences.
  • How do you teach programming? “Oh, we have separate groups for boys and girls”.
  • All you can find to hype about your school comes down to “we have nice grounds and are really into nepotism”.
  • Students all look the same (white, thin, able-bodied). I don’t care if your diversity is multi-ethnic, involving various forms of ability/disability, or more of an international-student thing, but it’s not healthy to have none at all.
  • Endless talk about hard, hard work, with regular all-nighters being required (in high school?! WTF) and university-level work — but only an OSSD at the end. What’s the point of pushing kids that hard if they don’t even get any advance university credit for it? Bizarre.
  • You do all kinds of advanced science — but hey, you’re balanced because you go to the opera once! Yeah, no. Those kids aren’t going to have the writing and textual interpretation skills they’ll need later. Trust me on this; I’ve TA’d for science classes.
  • “This is our pool and our fitness room, but we never get to use it really”. Fancy facilities are lovely (although utterly unnecessary), but not if they’re only there for show.
  • The student band is really, really bad. Sharp, flat and off time all at once. Don’t make me want to cover my ears and run away!

Fundamentally, it comes down to culture: how you treat people who take your tour tells me quite a bit about your attitude towards the kids. You’re demonstrating for me — and more importantly, for my daughter — what her next four years might be like. Don’t hedge, apologize or weasel — show us what you’ve got!

Why else?


Me: What? Why are you roaring?


  • Comments Closed
Dinner is such a fun time at our house

Child: There’s bacon on my pizza ewww! Poor piggies!
Me: Oh no! And the cheese is made from milk stolen from baby cows!
D: And the wheat! Have you heard how wheat screams when it goes into the grinder to become flour!
Us: Just eat the pizza.

  • Comments Closed
It’s all oppression all the time at our house

Child: Daddy made me carry you your coffee and I brushed my hand against it and it was hot and it hurt.
Me: Well, thanks anyway.
Child: I hope you appreciate it came from pain and suffering.

Child: I want to go buy some candy but I don’t want to get dressed.
Me: A dilemma for sure.
Child: Can I just go in my footie pjs?
Me: Um, no. You need to get dressed.
Child: Society should be more accepting. It should be like, you want to go out in your footie jammies? AWESOME. YAY FOR YOU.
Me: Go get dressed.

  • Comments Closed

M tells us a long story about a friend snapping a shot of her brother falling over while skiing

D: And so it was immortalized on film, huh?
M: No, it was a picture.
D: I’ll just go over here and feel old now.

  • Comments Closed
Of course

Me to child: What were you DOING in the shower for twenty minutes if you didn’t even wash your hair?!?

Child: I was travelling to other dimensions! Singing a pirate song!

  • Comments Closed
Cargo bike, 8 months on

So back in March we bought a cargo bike. We’d set out intending to buy a tandem, but on the test ride it turned out that I hated the tandem with the intensity of a thousand burning suns within about ten seconds of getting on the thing. Totally synced starts and stops? No control? Ummmmno. Not working for me. But since we were at a good bike shop we tried this massive, bright orange Yuba Mundo cargo bike because it was there, and we all loved it immediately, bought it on the spot, and nicknamed it The Beast.

Cargo bike in action!

Since then we’ve put the better part of 2000km on the thing, what with schlepping the miss to school (~8km away) and many trips to the grocery store and Home Depot and general errands and whatnot. It’s put a huge dent in our Autoshare usage — when your bike carries 75lbs of tomato flats, 6 2-4s of beer, 8 large bags of groceries, or two human passengers, a car becomes much less necessary — and wow pushing its 50lbs around (often plus a heavy 10-year-old child plus our own pannier plus her school backpack, or whatever other cargo one has loaded on) has been good for our quads and general aerobic fitness. We put a little over 100km on it each week during the school year — 5x20km on weekdays plus a grocery run and maybe a Home Depot run or something similar on weekends. It is in very heavy use.

Since the photo above was taken, we’ve added extra handlebars attached to the main seatpost so the miss doesn’t have to hold on to either us or the frame of the bike. We switched to disc brakes, because the original brakes were insufficient to the task and were actually scraping bits of metal off the rims. We also added a yellow BikeGlow to help outline the bulk of the thing in the dark. The bike is 6’9″ long, quite a behemoth, bigger than anyone really expects a bike to be, so it’s good to have the outline more clear. Here’s an amusing photo of what it looks like in the pitch black dark (front is at left, rear is at right):

Cargo bike in the dark

The BikeGlow runs down the length of the left (traffic side) running board, up the back (not visible in the photo), and then forward the entire length of the bike.

It’s a very sociable thing, riding a cargo bike, whether you like it or not. At stops one is forever answering the questions of other cyclists and pedestrian passers-by.

  • What the heck is that thing (A long-tail cargo bike. It can carry 440lbs of cargo plus the rider. The other main kind of cargo bike is a bakfiets)?
  • Is that legal (Yes. While you can’t carry passengers on bikes not intended for it, bikes designed for passengers are just fine.)?
  • Where did you get it (Urbane, although Sweet Pete’s also probably carries them)?
  • And the sexist one I get that Dave doesn’t: Can you really ride that thing All By Yourself Dearie (hell yes).

…Among other things. Now that we have the BikeGlow and it’s dark by 5pm, we also get to chat about that. So: don’t buy a cargo bike if you’re averse to random conversations with passers-by. Eventually we plan to put a big sticker on the bike with a QR code which links to some sort of explanation and details, much like this post.

Once you’re up to speed, riding it is less work than you might think. It’s the acceleration that’s killer. There are 21 gears on the thing and we use every one — I use many, many more gears on the cargo bike than I do on my own bike, especially on hills. On average I probably change gears every ten seconds or so, less if going up a hill. It is otherwise a very smooth and pleasant ride, though; rather similar in feel to a Bixi, if you’ve ever ridden one of those. Lots of stability, lots of momentum. Hit someone with the thing going reasonably quickly and you’ll probably kill them, so look out. It has power but it is crazy heavy and it is not what one might call nimble.

We’ve found it a really excellent substitute for both Autoshare and the TTC. We haven’t quantified the Autoshare part, but we’ve made about 120 round trips on it that would have otherwise required the TTC, so one adult at 2x$2.60 + one child at 2x$0.60 = $6.40 per round trip, that’s saved us roughly $768. At that rate it’ll pay itself off in another year or so. Not that we’re fussed about that — we prefer riding; it’s not about the money — but it’s kind of fun to track.

In short: recommended. You can put 2 baby seats, 2 child seats, 2 very large cargo bags, or a combination of the above on the back. Or you can just go wild with bungee cords. Cargo bikes really solve many of the problems with using a bike as your primary transportation in a reasonably bike-friendly environment. We’re very fond of our Beast.

No arguing with that

(At Canada’s Wonderland)

Me: Oh, sad, the waterpark is all closed.
D: There’s nothing sadder than an empty waterpark.
Child: Except a dead puppy.
Us: …. OK, you win.

  • Comments Closed
For my Dad

Me: Would you like me to turn the music off while you’re falling asleep honey, or what would you like me to put on? (We’re cottaging and if there’s music on, we’re all subjected to it.)

Child: How about that guy who talks along to the music, the one you and Grampa went to the concert of?

Me: Leonard? That’s very good music for sleeping.

Child: Yeah, he’s good.

It does help

Me: So how did the new raincoat work? Did it keep you dry?
Child: Yeah
Child: …when I wore it.

  • Comments Closed
Teh coolth, it oozes out

Walking down the street:

M: ….it’s pretty cool. Temperature-cool, you know, not Daddy-cool.
D: I’m cool?
M: Yeah. But you’re never as cool as Mommy.

  • Comments Closed
Not the SOUL!

Me, upon entering the kitchen and finding the child on the floor at my husband’s feet, clearly in the middle of a ticklefest: Are you torturing our child?

Him: Not in any way that’ll leave a mark.

Child: It’ll leave a mark on my SOUL!

  • Comments Closed
The Uncool, part 1 of many

New Year’s Eve, 4pm

M: Can I sleep over at [friend]’s tonight?

Me: Um, you don’t want to be here with us?

M: No. We’re cleaning [friend]’s stuffed animals. We found if you put soap on the stains and let it set, the stains come out with the soap when we wash them!

Me: That’s true, but it’s easier just to put them in the washing machine. We’re going to have cheese and crackers with everybody probably around 7:30, why don’t you drop by for that?

M: No, we just want to play in the basement.

Me: OK then. Have fun! Happy New Year!

M leaves

D: So, just to be clear about this — we’re less fun than laundry.

Me: Yep.

Casseroles are good medicine

M, singing:

L, O, double-L I, P-O-P spells lollipop, lollipop
That’s the only decent kind of candy, candy
Man who made it musta been a dandy, dandy
L, O, double-L I, P-O-P spells lollipop, lollipop
It’s a lick on a stick guaranteed to make you sick
Lollipop for me!

C, A, SS E R, O-L-E spells casserole, casserole
That’s the only decent kind of medicine, medicine
Man who made it musta been an Edison, Edison
C, A, SS E R, O-L-E spells casserole, casserole
It’s a lick on a spoon guaranteed to make you swoon
Casserole for me!

Me: What? A casserole is dinner, not medicine!
M: I know, but that’s how the song goes!
Me: I think it’s supposed to be castor oil. C, A, S-T-O-R, O-I-L spells castor oil.
M: Oh.

  • Comments Closed
Honest, if not quiet

M: I have a new book for school — Anne of Green Gables.

Me: Oh, that’s a good one. I like that book.

M: That girl talks way too much. She’s like [friend’s name] when she’s tired, all talk talk talk talk talk talk blah blah blah.

Me: Well, hon, you have been known to talk rather a lot yourself, you know.

M: Well, when I’m complaining, yes.


Once upon a time I was staffing a camp bus and there was this one little boy of about eight who DID NOT want to go to camp. He clung and clung to his mother who, in a moment of extreme madness, had actually got on the bus* to say goodbye to him.

Two of us pried the kid off the mom, one finger at a time. Finally Mom was detached (and firmly directed off the bus) but then the kid latched firmly on to the handrail on the bus stairs and couldn’t be budged. The bus couldn’t legally leave with him there in front of the white line, of course, and the mom stood three feet away from the open door, continuing to feed the drama.

Five minutes of soothing conversation with the shrieking kid got us absolutely nowhere and was making my head pound — I was, shall we say, not at my best after a long night out — and the mom was looking like she was about to lose her wits entirely and come back on the bus so finally I looked at a friend of mine and kind of hopelessly said “Help. DO SOMETHING.” He reached over and very quickly and neatly flipped the kid up over the rail into the front seat of the bus before the kid even knew what was happening. The bus driver slammed the doors closed and we were off.

The kid didn’t stop shrieking for a good long time — Barrie, IIRC.**

That kid? That kid has nothing in common with my kid.

Off to camp!

A mere 60 hours after her arriving home from her usual summer adventures in Western Canada, today was Camp Day for M. We got to the bus departure zone today and she found her friends, ran around with them doing some excited shrill squeaking, then got on the bus for three weeks of camp without a backwards glance.

“Do you think she’ll come off again and say goodbye?” D asked, and we each gave it about 50% odds. She did, in the end. Then she got on the bus and we smiled and waved as it left, and I remembered That Kid and felt glad that my own kid chooses other forms of drama.

Maybe we’ll get a letter from her this year. I’d give that about 50% odds, too.

* Rule for parents at camp buses: no matter how upset your kid is (or you are) it’s best to deploy the Madagascar penguin solution: smile and wave, boys; smile and wave.

** Once he was at camp he was fine. They all are.
I did make sure to send his cabin on their canoe trip with someone other than me, though, because it was really loud shrieking.

  • Comments Closed
It’s Spiderman! It’s a pirate! It’s both!

My nephew was apparently in need of some of his own dress-up clothes so for his 3rd birthday recently, I made him a cape using these fabrics and this tutorial:

It’s totally reversible and the neck closure is done with a little bit of velcro so it’s pretty safe (the velcro comes undone easily so it would be hard to strangle yourself).

Because of the length and the way the seams are tacked down it has a pretty good swing to it, even when one is wearing a bathrobe:

  • Comments Closed
An Ode to Popcorn

Among the detritus that came home at the end of the school year, I found M’s poetry notebook. They covered cinquains, rhyming couplets and odes.

It is a brave teacher, I think, who is willing to venture into Ode territory with a class of grade 2/3/4’s.

“I like M’s poetry,” said her teacher at one interview. “It always makes sense“. So it does… mostly:

An Ode to Popcorn (By M.K., grade 4)

O popcorn how wonderful you are
Your crunch and saltiness make a delcicious snack
I love to eat you riding in the car.
I even like you when your burnt and black.

I can put flavours on you.
I love the watermelon flavour
And sometimes, in mysterys, you’re a clue.
The popcorn, yellow and crisp, I savor.

(I left the original spellings intact. I wouldn’t want to mess with anyone’s artistic decisions. 😉 )

  • Comments Closed
To do

A to-do list I found on M’s floor today.

I detect a nascent world domination plan here, which I suppose was inevitable given her genetic material.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the “fake lightening machien” and the “bat machien” and I wonder what the stuffed horse robots are going to do with their remote-controlled car, but I particularly like the note at the top: “*clean desk before attempting any of this”.