Archivi categoria: Parenting

When Your Child is as Big as You

My mom used to say that when your child is as big as you, you have to treat them with respect. What she actually said was that you had to address them using a respectful form of “te,” which doesn’t make any sense in English, but may work in Hindi or French. It worked poetically well in Malayalam. I was reminded of this maternal pearl of wisdom recently when I was watching a movie with my son.

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Sunset Career

L'insegnamento è una vocazione nobile e gratificante. As my sunset career, I have accepted a faculty position at Singapore Management University, l'insegnamento di analisi dei dati e modelli di business presso la School of Information Systems. Questi argomenti si siedono bene con la mia entrepreneurial ventures from earlier this year on data analytics and process automation, che erano tutti parte della mia uscendo di pensionamento.

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Why Have Kids?

At some point in their life, most parents of teenage children would have asked a question very similar to the one Cypher asked in Matrix, “Perché, oh, why didn’t I take the blue pill?” Did I really have to have these kids? Non fraintendetemi, I have no particular beef with my children, they are both very nice kids. Oltre a, I am not at all a demanding parent, which makes everything work out quite nicely. But this general question still remains: Why do people feel the need to have children?

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Anti-Razzismo Video

Ho trovato questo breve video su Facebook.

Recentemente, Mi sono confrontato con l'islamofobia da quartieri inattesi. La persona che esprime i sentimenti anti-musulmani mi aspettava a condividere gli stessi sentimenti. Io non, ma io non ho parlato fino soprattutto perché non volevo offendere. Non avrei dovuto, e ho pensato di condividere il video con un pubblico più ampio, nel tentativo di fare ammenda.

Ero alla ricezione di un incidente simile circa venti anni fa a Marsiglia. Stavo camminando al bancomat su Avenue de Mazargues un pomeriggio, quando una bambina, probabilmente circa cinque o sei anni, tirò su la manica e mi ha detto che era perduto ed è stato in cerca di lei “Mamma.” Riuscivo a malapena a parlare francese in quel momento, non certo in modo un bambino poteva capire; “Lei parla inglese?” non aveva intenzione di tagliarlo. Non potevo solo a piedi dal figlio perduto o.

Quindi ci sono stato, tenendo la mano del bambino e disperatamente guardando intorno per aiuto, quasi in preda al panico, quando sua madre è apparso dal nulla, lei strappato, mi ha dato un'occhiataccia e si allontanò senza una parola per me, e ho il sospetto rimproverare la bambina. Ero più sollevato che offeso in quel momento. Credo che anche ora, Non riesco a pensare ad un modo migliore di quella situazione. Bene, un “grazie, gentiluomo” sarebbe stato bello, ma chi se ne frega?

Foto di Tim Pierce cc

Autismo e Genius

La maggior parte delle cose nella vita sono distribuiti normalmente, il che significa che tutti mostrano una curva a campana quando si quantificato utilizzando una misura ragionevole. Per esempio, i segni segnate da un numero sufficiente di studenti ha una distribuzione normale, con pochissimi punteggio vicino allo zero o vicino a 100%, e la maggior parte raggrupparsi intorno alla media della classe. Questa distribuzione è la base per la lettera di classificazione. Naturalmente, questo presuppone un test sensibile - se il test è troppo facile (come un test scuola elementare dato a studenti universitari), tutti avrebbero punteggio vicino a 100% e non ci sarebbe curva a campana, né alcun modo ragionevole di lettera-classificazione dei risultati.

Se potessimo ragionevolmente quantificare caratteristiche come l'intelligenza, follia, autismo, Atletico, attitudine musicale ecc, essi dovrebbero formare normali distribuzioni gaussiane. Dove vi trovate sulla curva è una questione di fortuna. Se siete fortunati, si cade sul lato destro della distribuzione vicino alla coda, e se siete sfortunati, si dovrebbe trovare te stesso verso la fine sbagliata. Ma questa affermazione è un po 'troppo semplicistico. Nulla nella vita è proprio così straight-forward. Le varie distribuzioni hanno correlazioni strani. Anche in assenza di correlazioni, considerazioni di carattere puramente matematiche indicheranno che la probabilità di trovarsi alla fine a destra di molteplici tratti desiderabili è sottile. Vale a dire, se siete in cima 0.1% della vostra coorte accademicamente, e in termini di tuo aspetto, e in atletismo, sei già uno su un miliardo — che è il motivo per cui non si trovano molti fisici teorici straordinariamente bello che sono anche classificati giocatori di tennis.

La recente campione mondiale di scacchi, Magnus Carlsen, è anche un modello di moda, che è una notizia proprio perché è l'eccezione che conferma la regola. A proposito, Ho solo capito che cosa misteriosa espressione "eccezione che conferma la regola" in realtà voleva dire - qualcosa si presenta come un'eccezione solo perché come regola generale, non esiste o accade, che dimostra che non vi è una regola.

Tornando al nostro tema, oltre alla probabilità minuscolo per genio come prescritto dalla matematica, troviamo anche correlazioni tra genio e patologie comportamentali come la pazzia e l'autismo. Un cervello genio probabilmente è cablato in modo diverso. Qualcosa di diverso dalla norma è anche, bene, anormale. Comportamento anomalo quando giudicato contro le regole della società è la definizione di follia. Quindi vi è un solo una linea sottile che separa la pazzia da vero genio, Credo. Le vite personali di molti geni puntano a questa conclusione. Einstein aveva strane relazioni personali, e un figlio che era clinicamente pazzo. Molti geni effettivamente finito nel cestino looney. E alcuni afflitti con autismo mostrano i regali sorprendenti come la memoria fotografica, abilità matematiche ecc. Prendete per esempio, il caso di savants autistici. O considerare casi come Sheldon Cooper di The Big Bang Theory, che è solo leggermente migliore rispetto (o diversi) il Rain Man.

Credo che la ragione per la correlazione è il fatto che le stesse lievi anomalie nel cervello possono spesso manifestarsi come talento o genio sul lato positivo, o come regali discutibili sul lato negativo. Credo che il mio messaggio è che chiunque lontano dalla media in qualsiasi distribuzione, sia esso brillantezza o la follia, dovrebbe prendere con né orgoglio né rancore. Si tratta semplicemente di una fluttuazione statistica. So che questo post non alleviare il dolore di coloro che sono afflitti dal lato negativo, o eliminare l'arroganza di quelli sul lato positivo. Ma qui sta sperando che almeno diminuire l'intensità di questi sentimenti…
Foto di Arturo de Albornoz

How to Take Beautiful Pictures

I recently learned a technique in portrait photography from this artist friend of mine. He told me that one could use backlight to create beautiful portraits. I had always thought that backlight was a bad thing, which was something my dad taught me. I trusted him. Dopotutto, he used to take impressive portraits with his faithful Yashica Electro 35. Dopo, after acquiring my first SLR, I spent a lot of time understanding the merits of TTL (Through-The-Lens) metering and fill-flash to counter the evils of backlight.

So when Stéphane told me that the best way to capture nice portraits is to have the sun behind my subject, I was shocked. But experience had taught me to always pay attention to Stéphane. He used to take better pictures with a drugstore paper camera than I could with my prized Nikon SLR. He was right, naturalmente. With the sun behind them, your subject doesn’t have to squint and screw up their eyes against the light. They are less distracted and tend to smile more readily. E, most importantly, their backlit hair looks magical.

To do backlight portraits right, tuttavia, you have to be careful about a couple of things. Primo, make sure that you don’t have direct sunlight on your lens, which will create unseemly flares. I’m sure the next time I meet him, Stéphane will teach me how to use flares to my advantage. But for now, I would avoid direct light on the lens. Look for a spot in the shade. Per esempio, look for a tree casting a shadow. Don’t try to stand in the shadow, but try to get the shadow on your face, which is where the camera is likely to be. Get the tree in between you and the sun. How do you do it in practice? Just turn around and look at the shadow of your head; if it is hidden within another bigger shadow, you are safe. Se non, move.

Stephane in CassisThe second thing to pay close attention to is the background. It cannot be too bright, or the average metering of your camera will underexpose your subject’s face. (Di nuovo, another dictum the creative photographer will probably scoff at). Look at the portrait of Stéphane himself, taken by me the day after I got the revelation about backlight. You can see my reflection on his glasses, trying to crouch low so as to get the dark hill in the frame rather than the bright beach sand. I think this is a nice photo, at least technically. Stéphane looked at it and complained that he looked like a James Bond villain!

Kavita in Carnoux
Here is a backlit portrait of my lovely wife. See how the framing includes the dark shrubbery in the background giving the nice contrast and brightness to the face. Bene, I will admit it, the composition was probably a lucky accident. But still, I wouldn’t have attempted this snap unless I knew that backlight could be good. So be bold, experiment with backlight. I’m sure you will like the results.

Here are some dramatic backlight portraits by a gifted photographer.

Deferred Satisfaction

The mother was getting annoyed that her teenaged son was wasting time watching TV.
“Son, don’t waste your time watching TV. You should be studying,” she advised.
“Perché?” quipped the son, as teenagers usually do.
“Bene, if you study hard, you will get good grades.”
“Sì, so?”
“Poi, you can get into a good school.”
“Why should I?”
“That way, you can hope to get a good job.”
“Perché? What do I want with a good job?”
“Bene, you can make a lot of money that way.”
“Why do I want money?”
“Se avete abbastanza soldi, you can sit back and relax. Watch TV whenever you want to.”
“Bene, I’m doing it right now!”

What the mother is advocating, naturalmente, is the wise principle of deferred satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if you have to do something slightly unpleasant now, as long as you get rewarded for it later in life. This principle is so much a part of our moral fabric that we take it for granted, never questioning its wisdom. Because of our trust in it, we obediently take bitter medicines when we fall sick, knowing that we will feel better later on. We silently submit ourselves to jabs, root-canals, colonoscopies and other atrocities done to our persons because we have learned to tolerate unpleasantnesses in anticipation of future rewards. We even work like a dog at jobs so loathesome that they really have to pay us a pretty penny to stick it out.

Before I discredit myself, let me make it very clear that I do believe in the wisdom of deferred satisfaction. I just want to take a closer look because my belief, or the belief of seven billion people for that matter, is still no proof of the logical rightness of any principle.

The way we lead our lives these days is based on what they call hedonism. I know that the word has a negative connotation, but that is not the sense in which I am using it here. Hedonism is the principle that any decision we take in life is based on how much pain and pleasure it is going to create. If there is an excess of pleasure over pain, then it is the right decision. Although we are not considering it, the case where the recipients of the pain and pleasure are distinct individuals, nobility or selfishness is involved in the decision. So the aim of a good life is to maximize this excess of pleasure over pain. Viewed in this context, the principle of delayed satisfaction makes sense — it is one good strategy to maximize the excess.

But we have to be careful about how much to delay the satisfaction. Chiaramente, if we wait for too long, all the satisfaction credit we accumulate will go wasted because we may die before we have a chance to draw upon it. This realization may be behind the mantra “live in the present moment.”

Where hedonism falls short is in the fact that it fails to consider the quality of the pleasure. That is where it gets its bad connotation from. Per esempio, a ponzi scheme master like Madoff probably made the right decisions because they enjoyed long periods of luxurious opulence at the cost of a relatively short durations of pain in prison.

What is needed, forse, is another measure of the rightness of our choices. I think it is in the intrinsic quality of the choice itself. We do something because we know that it is good.

I am, naturalmente, touching upon the vast branch of philosophy they call ethics. It is not possible to summarize it in a couple of blog posts. Nor am I qualified enough to do so. Michael Sandel, d'altronde, is eminently qualified, and you should check out his online course Giustizia: Qual è la cosa giusta da fare? if interested. I just want to share my thought that there is something like the intrinsic quality of a way of life, or of choices and decisions. We all know it because it comes before our intellectual analysis. We do the right thing not so much because it gives us an excess of pleasure over pain, but we know what the right thing is and have an innate need to do it.

Che, almeno, is the theory. Ma, ultimamente, I’m beginning to wonder whether the whole right-wrong, good-evil distinction is an elaborate ruse to keep some simple-minded folks in check, while the smarter ones keep enjoying totally hedonistic (using it with all the pejorative connotation now) pleasures of life. Why should I be good while the rest of them seem to be reveling in wall-to-wall fun? Is it my decaying internal quality talking, or am I just getting a bit smarter? I think what is confusing me, and probably you as well, is the small distance between pleasure and happiness. Doing the right thing results in happiness. Eating a good lunch results in pleasure. When Richard Feynman wrote about The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, he was probably talking about happiness. When I read that book, what I’m experiencing is probably closer to mere pleasure. Watching TV is probably pleasure. Writing this post, d'altronde, is probably closer to happiness. Almeno, I hope so.

To come back my little story above, what could the mother say to her TV-watching son to impress upon him the wisdom of deferred satisfaction? Bene, just about the only thing I can think of is the argument from hedonism saying that if the son wastes his time now watching TV, there is a very real possibility that he may not be able to afford a TV later on in life. Perhaps intrinsically good parents won’t let their children grow up into a TV-less adulthood. I suspect I would, because I believe in the intrinsic goodness of taking responsibility for one’s actions and consequences. Does that make me a bad parent? Is it the right thing to do? Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

Another Pen Story of Tough Love

Once a favorite uncle of mine gave me a pen. This uncle was a soldier in the Indian Army at that time. Soldiers used to come home for a couple of months every year or so, and give gifts to everybody in the extended family. There was a sense of entitlement about the whole thing, and it never occurred to the gift takers that they could perhaps give something back as well. During the past couple of decades, things changed. The gift takers would flock around the rich “Gulf Malayalees” (Keralite migrant workers in the Middle-East) thereby severely diminishing the social standing of the poor soldiers.

Comunque, this pen that I got from my uncle was a handsome matte-gold specimen of a brand called Crest, possibly smuggled over the Chinese border at the foothills of the Himalayas and procured by my uncle. I was pretty proud of this prized possession of mine, as I guess I have been of all my possessions in later years. But the pen didn’t last that long — it got stolen by an older boy with whom I had to share a desk during a test in the summer of 1977.

I was devastated by the loss. More than that, I was terrified of letting my mother know for I knew that she wasn’t going to take kindly to it. I guess I should have been more careful and kept the pen on my person at all times. Certo, basta, my mom was livid with anger at the loss of this gift from her brother. A proponent of tough love, she told me to go find the pen, and not to return without it. Ora, that was a dangerous move. What my mom didn’t appreciate was that I took most directives literally. I still do. It was already late in the evening when I set out on my hopeless errant, and it was unlikely that I would have returned at all since I wasn’t supposed to, not without the pen.

My dad got home a couple of hours later, and was shocked at the turn of events. He certainly didn’t believe in tough love, far from it. Or perhaps he had a sense of my literal disposition, having been a victim of it earlier. Comunque, he came looking for me and found me wandering aimlessly around my locked up school some ten kilometer from home.

Parenting is a balancing act. You have to exercise tough love, lest your child should not be prepared for the harsh world later on in life. You have to show love and affection as well so that your child may feel emotionally secure. You have to provide for your your child without being overindulgent, or you would end up spoiling them. You have to give them freedom and space to grow, but you shouldn’t become detached and uncaring. Tuning your behavior to the right pitch on so many dimensions is what makes parenting a difficult art to master. What makes it really scary is the fact that you get only one shot at it. If you get it wrong, the ripples of your errors may last a lot longer than you can imagine. Once when I got upset with him, my son (far wiser than his six years then) told me that I had to be careful, for he would be treating his children the way I treated him. Ma allora, we already know this, don’t we?

My mother did prepare me for an unforgiving real world, and my father nurtured enough kindness in me. The combination is perhaps not too bad. But we all would like to do better than our parents. Nel mio caso, I use a simple trick to modulate my behavior to and treatment of my children. I try to picture myself at the receiving end of the said treatment. If I should feel uncared for or unfairly treated, the behavior needs fine-tuning.

This trick does not work all the time because it usually comes after the fact. We first act in response to a situation, before we have time to do a rational cost benefit analysis. There must be another way of doing it right. May be it is just a question of developing a lot of patience and kindness. Sai, there are times when I wish I could ask my father.