23 January 2008

Parenting in Paris

"It sucks how people with kids have nothing else to talk about" - conan, 2003

"My 18-month-old said 'bottle' today!!!" - conan, 2008

As if I didn't have enough obsessions already, Sabrina and I made two children. Quite apart from their personal qualities (which would keep me going for hours if anyone would listen), the whole topic of parenting is fascinating. I have found a few articles that inspire or reflect our parenting approach, to some degree. I want to share them with you.

Caveat: for every author who writes, "do X and your child will turn into a psychopath", there is another who writes "don't do X and your child will turn into a psychopath". Ultimately, you're the judge.

Pascal very kindly lent me two Arbinger books - Leadership and self-deception, and The Anatomy of Peace. These are two great books teaching inner peace, how to attain it, and how it helps everything else. Browsing their site, I spotted a pdf on parenting, which turns out to be a concise description of how Arbinger approaches apply to parenting - download here.

Punished by Rewards influenced me deeply, and is the only book I know that considers parenting and management equivalent. One line oversimplification: punishment and reward teach your children about manipulation and the wielding of power - but nothing about the ostensible purpose of the punishment/reward. I wonder if being a father counts as management experience for my CV?

We're really lucky to be living only 30 minutes' walk from Living School which offers "an education encompassing life skills, living together, environmental awareness, sustainable development, good citizenship and health" - a lot more than spelling and counting, and very much what the world needs more of.

We've seen great results from techniques in Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. In short - "I understand you would like a big, big box of chocolate biscuits" works better than "shut up, there are no chocolate biscuits, finish your porridge".

Aware Parenting - with a bunch of articles covering co-sleeping ("co-dodo" in french, how cute), violence, crying, punishment. The site has a strong moral tone however - I like the Faber and Mazlish practical tone a lot better.

How to Con your Kid has a few tricks that may or may not work in your context - but a common theme in many of their examples is the idea that the child's need for self-determination can be met by offering a simple choice. In other words when you're in a hurry to get out of the house, "do you want to wear your blue sweater, or your green sweater", works like a total charm.

Finally, a NY Times article, apparently based on this Scientific American article, talks about the difference between effective praise and counterproductive praise. Summary: praise the stuff your children feel they control (their effort); avoid praising them for being smart/intelligent, which leads to a sense of helplessness in the face of unfamiliar and difficult tasks.

Finally, my mother tells me I should stop all this silly reading and just do as my instincts tell me. The problem is, my instincts feel totally uneducated. Her instincts, on the other hand, are amazing. I learn more watching her with the children in one hour than from a month of books ...

16 January 2008

CVs and CVS

I really enjoy Johanna Rothman's Hiring Technical People (the blog, and the book). But her mindshare in France seems miserably low. I'm reading a lot of CVs these days. Here are some conan perspectives on hiring:

Dear CV authors:

You are fond of adding a long string of gibberish at the end of each project description:

CVS, Eclipse, Maven, Ant, Spring 1.2, Hibernate 3, Java/J2EE, Servlets/JSP, taglibs, Struts, Design Pattern, MVC, blah, blah, yawn ...

It's a kind of free-association game. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is some news:

Knowing how to use version control is not a marketable skill

Your IDE is doing all the work on your behalf anyway. Please cut out the noise! "Eclipse, CVS" doesn't enhance my knowledge of you, except that you fill your CV with unimportant details. Maybe you do the same in code.

Worse, in your project description you tell me almost nothing. You tell me,

  • Involved in development
  • Wrote tests in junit
  • Used Design Patterns

Please, tell me this instead:

  • In a team of four, I single-handledly migrated the entire widget management platform to Rails thus enabling our client to speed up inventory turnover by 250%.
  • I introduced test-driven development using JUnit despite initial resistance from other developers. Within three months, our defect injection rate was down 99%.
  • After I read Kerievsky's Refactoring To Patterns in one weekend, I presented the core concepts to the team, and over the next six months we identified and refactored dozens of hotspots in our code that were causing the most pain. The bad old days of agonizing over broken tests are now a distant memory.

Spot the pattern? "I did ${some concrete, amazing thing}, and consequently ${realised a lot of value}". The value part is particularly important. If you "wrote tests in junit" but don't tell me why, I'm not really sure you know why. And if you don't know why, then I'm certain you're not doing it right. And I have a hundred other CVs to look at, and my main job is being involved in development anyway, so in a spirit of humility and respect I turn down your CV, wish you the best for the future, and turn over to see what the next author is involved in ...

If in your project you can't do ${some amazing thing}, then find another context where you can. You owe it to yourself, and to the rest of the world. Good luck!

No Smoking - yes, really

I share Mike's enthusiasm for the success of the smoking ban in France, but it's a bit much to say of Paris that "Now it is truly civilized." There are still drivers. And dog poo.

But nonetheless, it's true, this is a major step towards 21st-century, first-world civilisation. Halfway through an excellent meal à la biche au bois with Nick and colleagues I suddenly realised that I hadn't noticed the air! In stark contrast to the pre-2008 situation, where it took quite some adaptation to notice anything but the air ...

A guy at the next table pulled out a cigarette and lighter and joked to his friends that there were no police around. I looked at him and luckily he changed his mind, he would have been on the undesirable end of an aveda kedavra :))

10 January 2008

gouge your eyes out with a rusty etymology

A recent Dave Snowden article uses "synecdoche" in its title, and it hurt too much to read on without understanding this word. Google's definition lookup explains this word means referencing a whole by a part - a common example being "all hands on deck" to mean "all men on deck". Then I got to wondering if the English word "man" was somehow related to Spanish "mano"/French "main" ("hand") - which would give us an interesting path from "hand" to "human". Maybe "man" is already an example of synecdoche?

While I was there, I noticed that "man" is recent in English - up to the 14th century, according to etymonline , "wer" was used instead. From Latin "vir", also giving "fear" (pl "fir") in Irish. I had thought old English and Irish generally didn't derive from Latin - so was I wrong or do these all derive from some earlier common ancestor - from India?

"Wyf" was the Old English word for "woman". There must have been a time, maybe around the 14th century, when "wife" had the double meaning of "woman" and "female spouse", just as "femme" and "mujer" do nowadays, in French and Spanish, respectively.

Fun stuff, no? Alas, It didn't help me with Dave's article though ...

06 January 2008


I've been in hiding for too long. I need new relationships - partnerships for business, for fun, for Deep Philosophical Conversations ...

I live in France with my family (Sabrina and two wonderful children). Meeting people in the flesh involves a serious hit to family time. This is not ideal for a conversation that's going to be in somebody's second language.

So I want to learn how to do online relationships. If it's possible to call someone a "friend" through uniquely text interactions, I want to do it. And make lots of friends.

Hence the interest in a couple of recent posts in online social networks. I'll let you know how it works out.