Why You Should Always Use Clear and Relevant Headlines

Sometimes your subconscious brings up some dumb thing you did years ago, and then you get to stay up all night thinking about how awful it was.


In school I only enjoyed English class. English and Language Arts teachers were always my favourites. They paid me as much attention as I thought I deserved. My essays were used as teaching examples and read in front of the class. Lots of A’s and nice comments in red ink.

I had one teacher who was exceptional at maintaining control of the class, and told great stories. He had recurring laryngitis, and we would all lean forward to catch his unbelievable punch lines, told in a raspy whisper.

There was an accident where someone was swept downstream through icy whitewater, rescued with seconds to spare before tumbling into a butterchurn waterfall. There were adventures that ended with him sneaking into the house at 3am, only to find Dad in his room, sitting on the bed with a sarcastic expression. There were horse penises.

Great stuff. Anyway, I got A’s in that class as well. I avoided group projects by writing long essays. I was left alone to read doorstop-sized novels while everyone else struggled through slim paperbacks. It was the only provincial exam I did well on.

By the end of high school, I hadn’t made a good impression on any adults in my life, and had accomplished little aside from those long essays.

The band teacher, I fought with continuously, and did not practice my instrument. 

In chemistry, I got nosebleeds and frequently left class to deal with them. 

In social studies I wrote poetry instead of working on assignments and goaded the teacher into telling stories about India. 

In math I made an effort sufficient to keep passing only because the math teacher wouldn’t let me go to track meets if I failed. 

In track I ran slowly and didn’t throw the discus very far.

In Bible class I wrote angry rants and violent song lyrics on the back of test papers, as well as doodling “disturbing imagery”. On the front of those papers I wrote what I thought were scathing criticisms of Dr. James Dobson. (Please let those papers stay missing forever).

This book is just straight up mental. It tells you at exactly which base you cross from being cool with God into putting your soul in danger of hellfire. Spoilers: it comes before "touching each other's hair."
This book is just straight up mental. It tells you at exactly which base you cross from being cool with God into putting your soul in danger of hellfire. Spoilers: it comes before “touching each other’s hair.”

I was sent repeatedly to the principal’s office. I avoided delivering my senior chapel presentation, the source of at least 50% of my stress and nosebleeds that year, by procrastinating my way out of it.

At a summer camp where I worked as a counsellor, I was reprimanded for bringing “inappropriate books” to camp and leaving them within reach of campers. I can’t imagine what they found in that book that was inappropriate – it was so boring that I never finished it. Oh well.

At the library where I worked part time, I was scolded for reading in the stacks instead of shelving books. 

And I was thrown out of the spring musical for missing practice due to audiologist appointments.

So English was the only class where I did anything noteworthy.


At that after-school job in the library, I found amazing books. The job itself was dull, but I never lacked great reading material.

One was How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater, which was every bit as good as the title. Another was The Warrior’s Apprentice, first of series that turned out to be my favourite of all time. It beats Harry Potter and Discworld by a wide margin. Another was Sin and Syntax, a style guide for those who would break the rules of the English language for maximum impact. This is the one that got me in trouble.


The thing to do after you finish high school, is either go to college or get a job. I attempted college. It didn’t go well. I enjoyed arguing with my philosophy classmates and writing poems for my English elective, but Micro- and Macroeconomics gave me more nosebleeds. The education seemed too expensive and too much work for the job it qualified me for – part-time barista, perhaps. I stopped, and set my sights on Katimavik.

Nevermind what Katimavik is or why I was thrown out of it. The point is that I needed letters of reference,  and two years out of high school I had still failed to do anything interesting with my life. The only person I could think to ask was my old English teacher. And I wanted to be sure that he read the email and responded to it, even if in the negative. So I pulled out old Sin and Syntax, and opened it to the section about writing compelling subject lines to emails.

This is the first google image result for “airsex”. I don’t know what to tell you.

airsex“, the book suggested. No, that wasn’t right. “Prepare to be overwhelmed“. Not strictly accurate – there was nothing overwhelming about 20-year-old me. “writer threatening suicide” was another example the book cited, as an attention-grabbing subject line. It would get attention, but not, I thought, the right kind. I settled on “I love you“, as the book guaranteed that this was a title unlikely to be ignored.

I don’t know why I did that. Please don’t ask. However, the only email address I had handy for that teacher was the one that he shared with his wife. So if they did indeed receive the message, it cannot have been very welcome. Never got a reply. Haven’t spoken to either of them since. Hope I never do.

The moral of the story is that if you are writing to ask for a reference, or indeed for any other thing, you should make your subject line clear and relevant. In this case “Request for reference” would have made a perfectly adequate subject.

The second moral is, don’t just do stuff that books tell you to do. Get a second opinion first.

How to talk to your deaf* friend

Tl;dr read the bold bits.

Friends, have you ever started asking me a question only to be interrupted by “Wassat?” after like 2 words? Like,

“Do you…” “What?”

“I was going to say, do you want some more coffee?”

“Oh. Yes please.”

I notice a sound – I notice that it’s speech – I notice it’s addressed to me – I look around trying to figure where it’s coming from – I see someone looking at me with a question on their face, halfway through asking something that I haven’t heard any of.

People with normal hearing get through most of those steps before the end of the first syllable, but it takes me a couple of words to get there.

Please help me. Get my attention before you start talking. Say “Shannon”. Tap my shoulder. Say “oi.” Make eye contact. Throw something at my head. Just that tiny notification that you are about to start saying something makes a huge difference.

I will drop everything and give you my undivided attention at the slightest provocation. Just help me out a bit.

If I don’t know what the conversation is about, I can’t understand any of the words people are saying. So if a group is talking about the food on the table, and suddenly switches to hockey, I get very confused. Like, I’ll go from understanding maybe 80% of the words that people say, to less than 10% – until I hear the word “hockey” and then everything snaps back into place.

If I’ve spent any amount of time in your company, I’ve probably left the room, come back, and interrupted the conversation with “Ok, what are we talking about?” That’s what’s going on.

I don’t know any other deaf people. They’re bloody impossible to talk to. The irony does not escape me, and I am grateful for those who have patience with me.

I ask for repeats a lot. People respond in one of two ways. The first sort will rephrase what they said, same volume, still mumbling. Thanks, now I have two confusing sentences to decode while the conversation sputters and dies.

They’ll repeat themselves a couple more times, then eventually get annoyed and yell it out. Or better still, say “nevermind”.

My friend’s seven year old daughter does this a lot. She gets a pass, because she’s seven and adorable. If you’re an adult, I will try to educate you, but I won’t put up with it forever. When I ask for a repeat, say the exact same phrase – louder, and more clearly. 

Other people, who are used to it or maybe just more socially advanced, will develop a “Shannon voice” – that’s like an outside voice, in the words of your kindergarten teacher. Sit up straighter, use your lungs and your lips, and speak loudly enough for the whole class to hear. Recognize that you are an important person with interesting things to say, and I want to hear all of it.

Sound that arrives in my brain through my ears is of very low quality. It takes a lot of power to parse it out and get useful information. Sometimes there is a delay. Sometimes it takes a while for me to catch up.

Some things that cause my brain to work even harder:

  • Mumbling.
  • Loud noises in the background – like if someone slams a door while you’re talking, that whole sentence is gone.
  • Any kind of white noise in the background, like a tap running. Your ears tune it out – mine can’t.
  • Low light – it’s hard to read lips.
  • Accents.
  • Women’s voices, which tend to be higher pitched and quieter than men’s. I only recently – like this year – began to learn how many fascinating women I know. I have to seek them out for one on one conversation, because in groups they get drowned out.
  • Children – might as well be hamsters for all I can understand them. Fortunately kids don’t hold it against me, and will try as hard as I do.

Some things that help:

  • Talk louder. DON’T YELL. That distorts the words and makes them harder to understand. Plus it’s scary and upsetting and makes me want to leave. Louder, like you’re giving a presentation in class and the teacher is sitting in the back row.
  • Face me. I read lips.
  • Face me. When you talk to the kitchen sink, all the sound goes straight down the drain. None of it gets to me.
  • Don’t rest your chin on your hand. Don’t stroke your stupid mustache. In fact, shave the mustache, it also gets in my way.
  • Sit nearby. If you’re 3 feet away, I’m struggling. If you’re 6 feet away, I’m helpless.
  • If I put my face 6 inches away from yours and stare directly into your soul and that makes you uncomfortable, talk louder. I’m uncomfortable too.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your effort. I will try to repay it by listening well.

** Technically I am hard of hearing. Takes too long to type.

Repairing an 87 Toyota Tercel Window

I got this wagon last week. It’s rad. Come for a ride in it and I’ll bore you to death talking about the fuel efficiency (I’m excited). One small problem though, the passenger side window didn’t work.

When I bought it the guy basically told me never to touch it. Obviously I forgot this warning immediately, but it wasn’t a problem since I sit on the driver’s side. But as soon as I had a passenger in it, which didn’t take long, their first instinct was to roll down the window. Hot June, you know. It stayed stuck in position, then fell into the door when someone slammed it. Fortunately the glass wasn’t damaged, but it was stuck real good. In BC where it’s like living in an aquarium for most of the year, it’s a problem. Here’s how I fixed it.


  • Big Philips head
  • Small Philips head
  • Tire lever
  • Degreaser
  • Rag
  • Greaser

The door does not need to be removed from the hinges for this. The main thing we’re going to do is clean the regulator and the rails.

What Do

With thanks to Speed Hero for advice. First step is to remove the door card. There is a screw in door opener cup, one in the door closer cup, and one underneath the armrest. They are all Philips. The one under the armrest is pretty tough.

That’s what it looks like when you start, and that’s how it ought to look when you’re done.

Screws out, cups out, armrest off, carefullly! It’s a million years old so don’t break it.

armrest removed

Bits and stuff
Bits and stuff

handle cup removedarmrest screw

Get that screw also. Remove the regulator handle, (that’s the thing you turn to roll the window up and down). There’s a C-clip holding it on. Get a tiny screwdriver and pry it off, with your hand in the way to catch it because it will go flying all over the place. If it lands in the grass you’ll never find it again.

handle removed


After the screws are removed, the door card is held on only by plastic buttons. Start at the bottom corner and work your way around, making sure to wrap two fingers around each button as you pull it out. You don’t want to be the jerk that rips a 30 year old cardboard door card.

door card back
The white bits around the edge are the buttons.

This is the vapor barrier. If you’re really lucky, you’re the first person ever to take this door apart, and you’ll get to cut away the vapor barrier. Its purpose is to prevent the windows from getting foggy from moisture inside of the door. Tape it back on afterward if you think it’s worth the effort.

vapor barrier

vapor barrier 2

Is this a lot of redundant pictures? Yes. Cause it is easy to take things apart, and tougher to put stuff back together. This is what it looked like when it was together, and I definitely referred to these pictures while reassembling it.

Oh, and keep your screws safe. Important.
Oh, and keep your screws safe. Important.

card and barrier removedThis is annoying, because we have to work through holes in the door.

Through the big one in the lower center you can see the regulator, and through the two on the left side, see the rail. Both of these need to be cleaned as best as you can. After cleaning the regulator, grease it with bearing grease.

Roll it up and down a few times to check the teeth of the gear wheel as well, shown in the triangular hole, top center. Clean those too. Replace them if they’re worn and you’re also a rich mofo who can afford these things.

cleaning supplies

This’ll do for cleaning supplies. Also a toothbrush helps, I stole my roommates’ but you can buy one or whatever.

And then there’s nothing to do but wiggle the window up so it’s sitting on the regulator and snug within the rail on either side of the door. I didn’t notice there were two rails until after I had already gotten the window into it, so it isn’t that tough. Roll the window up and down a couple times to make sure it moves smoothly and it’s going to stay fixed. Then reassemble by reversing the process, and clean the glass after everything is done.

Multiple people told me this was going to be an annoying PITA job that would take all afternoon and tons of swearing, but it honestly wasn’t that tough. Like an hour tops. So good luck.



Don’t forget to leave a callback number, so the next guy knows who to blame.

How to Dynamically Add Radio Buttons

Haven’t seen a tutorial for this that isn’t badly spelled and hard to grok, so I’ll try it.

First, include the radio group widget and and declare one. You’ll also need LayoutParams and RadioButton, so include those as well.

Inside your onCreate method, initialize the radio group.

R.id.radio_selection_group is referring to a radio group that’s declared in your XML file, so make sure you have that as well.

Back in SomeAndroidActivity, create a method to dynamically add buttons to the radio group.

Then call that method in onCreate.

Easy pie.

How to Stay Warm on a Motorbike for Cheap

I’ve had my bike insured and running since January, and damn if today wasn’t the first decent weather we’ve had in all that time.

Step 1:

Gloves. If you’re a responsible adult, get some that have nice, plush lining, carbon knuckles, leather shells with no perforations. Gauntlets that go all the way up to your elbow. Velcro fasteners. Spend $200.

If you’re an irresponsible adult, like me, who can’t keep track of a pair of gloves for more than one year, get whatever you can for 40 bucks and hope for the best. When you start to feel pain in your fingertips, turn back. When the pain goes away, pull over at once and thaw out.

Step 2:

Jacket… and another jacket underneath.

2013-03-22 17.50.13
That’s a textile jacket with a lining, and a leather jacket underneath.

And a hoodie under that, and a thermal tee under that, and a tshirt as well. And just to be safe, stuff some newspapers down the front to block the zipper draft. And wear a tshirt around your neck, scarf style. Or even just a scarf. But tshirts seem to be easier to wrap around your face, bandit style, to keep your chin nice and warm.

Step 3:

Long johns. I got a super fancy pair of merino ones long ago. Best thing in the world. Wear them under your usual pants, then wear Carhartts over that. Take the Carhartts off before you go into a place of business, those things are disgraceful.

Step 4:

Boots. The higher top the better. I dunno, I’ve just been wearing these, and they seem to work ok. At least, my feet aren’t any colder than the rest of me.

Air Force BootsYou can get them by joining Air Cadets, then keeping your issued uniform after you quit. Or, the army surplus store.

Step 5:

Just stay inside for god’s sake, this is ridiculous.