Journal | December 2018

Ahhhhh! Summer in Australia. Why did I not know about you sooner?

Eureka!

I’ve been working on a card game on and off for the past few months. Partly as an experiment and partly out of laziness, I decided to “give it away for free”. In practice, this was more work than I expected. For one, I had to learn a little bit about copyright. Long story short, it is released under the license CC-BY4.0, which means—loosely speaking—you can do anything you want with it provided you cite your sources.

One of the big cons of this approach is that you have to find your own way to print your own cards, which is either cheaply done on a desktop printer (lame!) or expensively done on high quality cardstock (ugh!). I’m not sure a way around this.

You can find the instructions for printing and playing the game here.

Reading!

Children’s Literature Recommendations

Pig the Grub by Aaron Blabey

Fun. But would you expect anything less with a Pig book? All the kids love a good Pig story.

Ada Lace Sees Red by Emily Calandrelli and Renaee Kurilla

This is the second book in the Ada Lace series and I think this one is even better than the first! There are lots of relatable elements to this story. But the science—oh, the science—for me made it all the better!

Adult Literature September Reads

Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie

OK, full disclosure. I made a huge mistake in buying the audiobook for this one. There is just too many references to figures to follow along. I made it through alright by slowing it down and already having some experience with causal networks, but I can’t really recommend, or not recommend, this one. Some of the historical anecdotes were interesting, but it was at times hard to read (errr… listen) to the author’s self-pity about not being more recognised.

Through Two Doors at Once: The Elegant Experiment That Captures the Enigma of Our Quantum Reality by Anil Ananthaswamy

Hands down the best popular account of quantum physics. This tells in beautiful detail the key issues surrounding the controversies of quantum physics. The way the author does this all from the lense of a single experiment is inspiring.

Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child by James Breakwell

Comedy mixed with unintentional parenting wisdom. The jokes and style get a bit repetitive, but overall I enjoyed the laughs.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Finally got around to reading this highly recommended book. Wish I had read it sooner. Every positive thing written about this book is probably true.

Currently reading: Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths by Eddie Woo

Writing!

Today is the day for ABCs of Engineering with Dr Sarah Kaiser. Check out my #12DaysOfEngineering over on Twitter.

While you are at it, pick up a copy of Blockchain for Babies with Marco Tomamichel.

The final cover for Cat in the Box (1 June 2019) is here. I’ve seen the internal illustrations and they are great as well! Looking forward to see this one hit the shelves next year! If you can’t quite read the book blurb, it says: Schrodinger’s famous paradox reimagined for the modern world, with more talking animals and fewer dead cats.

Arithmetic! (academic news)

Big news for the Ferrie group! Dr Clara Javaherian and Dr Shibdas Roy have joined as postdoctoral researchers. They will both be working on the AUSMURI project, which is about machine learning and quantum control. Stay tuned to hear about some exciting new science this year!

Events!

  • Vacation!

Up next!

Both Blockchain for Babies and ABCs of Engineering are released on 1 Jan 2019! But, seeing as it is still peak summer in Australian, we’ll still be at the beach 😁

The power of silence

It is too easy to get trapped into the mentality that—because you know better—you can instantly fix a child’s problem. So why is it that resistance follows? Hint: it’s because you are not listening.

Recently I decided to take the plunge into audiobooks. Since this was a new venture for me, I decided also to listen to something I wouldn’t otherwise read: a parenting book. I’m not implying that I’m a perfect parent by thatI’ve just been blessed by a great partner and four amazing children, such that I haven’t felt the need to seek unnecessary advice.

Whether or not you think you are in the same boat, you should definitely pick up a copy of How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen and Listen so Your Kids will Talk written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Now, at this point you might be sarcastically saying, “Thanks for alerting us to the existence of a 30 year old parenting book in its 13th edition that has been referred to as the parenting bible.” But, this post is for those who don’t frequent self-help blogs and the parenting aisle of the bookshop; you might think you have a great relationship with your kidsthis book will make it better.

A comment about the audiobook

Before I continue, let me remind you that I listened to the audio version of the book. I have mixed, but still overall positive, feelings about this. First, there are plenty of cartoons in the physical book which obviously don’t translate to audio. I honestly didn’t notice this. Second, there are lots of exercises and places where you are asked to write things down. This is a bit awkward if you are listening to the book while being active. On the other hand, it is narrated by Susan Bennett, otherwise known as Siri. She does an absolutely amazing job capturing the emotion of the authors and, most importantly, the constant dialog in the book between parent and child. In any case, the content is well worth it. The remainder of this discussion will be about the content of the audiobook.

Nitpicking

I noticed that much of dialog in the book was dated in terms of language and subject matter. For example, a situation considered in the book was a child who borrowed and scratched a father’s compact disc. I mean, does anyone even own CD’s anymore? Luckily, this is more of a nostalgic amusement than a distraction.

I also didn’t like how the anniversary edition involved appendices of additions rather than a more streamlined approach. It felt a bit lazy and tacked on. In any case, the additional content was a useful addition to an otherwise great book.

Examples, examples, examples

A large chunk of How to Talk consists of real-life example dialogue between parent and child. These are invaluable. Often, the advice seems obvious in hindsightvalidate feelings, for example. But, it’s only after hearing the examples when you really see where improvement can be made. The examples usually begin with a fictitious unhelpful response from the parent, followed by a helpful response. Let me give you an example that actually happened to me when I tried to use the skills on my own children after reading the first chapter: “Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings.” My strategy was to default to silent acknowledgment whenever I couldn’t quickly find an appropriate response. 

Situation 1: Child (7) is asked to practice math exercises. After doing a few, she becomes bored and says, “I can’t do it.” Clearly, she can. Here is a typical way this would play out.

Child: I can’t do it.
Parent: Yes you can.
Child: I can’t. I don’t know how.
Parent: Well, you are not leaving the table until it is done.
Child (now crying): But I want to watch a movie!
Parent (voice raised): No movies until you are done all your homework!
Child: You’re mean!

And there is no end to the cycle. But, here is how it actually went:

Child: I can’t do it.
Parent: You feel that question is too hard for you?
Child: Yeah.
Parent: Hmm…
Child: [silence]
Parent: [silence]
Child: I think the answer is 17.

I couldn’t believe how well silence works for acknowledging feelings. Here is another example.

Situation 2: Child (3) is struggling to get his footwear on. He is frustrated that the sandal won’t fit on the wrong foot. Here is the typical way this would have gone.

Child (clearly frustrated): I can’t get it on!
Parent: That’s because you are putting it on the wrong foot.
Child: NO! It doesn’t fit!
Parent: Would you like me to do it for you?
Child: No!
Parent: [forces sandal on correct foot]
Child: [cries]

Here is how it actually went:

Child (clearly frustrated): I can’t get it on!
Parent: I see you are frustrated with that sandal.
Child (calmer): It doesn’t fit.
Parent: That can be so frustrating!
Child: [silence]
Parent: [silence]
Child (probably knowing all along): It’s the wrong foot.
Parent: [silence]

And he took it off the wrong foot and put it on the correct foot!

Bottom line

How to Talk contains seven chapters, the last being titled, “Putting it All Together.” But, to my mind, the first chapter contains the key insights to a better emotional relationship with my children. In the past, I’ve tried to avoid situations like those exemplified above. Accepting and dealing with my children’s emotions has not been that difficult because I have been fairly well in tune with them. This meant that I was able to easily anticipate meltdowns and avoid them altogether. For example, if I sensed that my 3 year old was irritable, I would not ask him to put his own shoes on, thereby avoiding the situation.

But protecting the children from their own feelings is not doing them any favors in the long run, and is becoming ever more difficult with a growing family. So, rather than doing the hard work of anticipating and preventing the emotional distress of my children, I’m now trying to acknowledge and accept how difficult it is to become an autonomous little person in a grown-up world.