2018-03-04 Emacs news

Links from reddit.com/r/emacs, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News, planet.emacsen.org, YouTube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.

Planning a few activities for A-

Registration opens this week for City of Toronto recreation programs, so I’ve been thinking about what to experiment with next. For this phase (2-3 years old), A- will probably be focusing on learning about:

  • independence
  • movement
  • language and music
  • emotions
  • socialization
  • the world around us

What have I learned from the classes we’ve taken and the memberships we have?

I was not keen on the Recreation Discovery with Caregiver class that we signed up for during the fall term, since it was hard to wake up A- in the morning and the class didn’t offer much beyond what we could get at drop-in centres.

Between a long trip to the Philippines and a late-waking A-, we missed many sessions of the Smart Start music classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Even though she mostly clung to me during the sessions that we did manage to attend, she somehow absorbed plenty from the class. At home, she’s been singing, dancing, galloping, marching, banging rhythm sticks together, playing on the piano and the xylophone, blowing into the recorder, tapping on the table, and even arranging chairs for sitting on – “Just like music class,” she exclaims. I think it’s worth a significant premium over city music classes or the 15-minute circle times at free drop-ins, considering A- gets exposed to well-maintained instruments and a highly skilled music teacher. I’ve picked up more melodic variants of the nursery rhymes I learned elsewhere, learned a few Canadian folk songs, and grown more comfortable with singing. If I can find a summer session in the afternoon, I might consider that.

For spring, I signed A- up for gymnastics classes through the City of Toronto. She’s gotten a lot more active, and I think it might be nice to explore what she can do with more facilities. I hope there’ll be a large padded mat and a few activities for balance and coordination. Even if she ends up being mostly reserved during class, I know she’ll pick up a lot by observing the teacher and the other kids, and I can set up things at home so that she can practice. The age range for the class is pretty big (2 – 5 years old), so I hope there’ll be other toddlers, a small class, and/or a teacher good at managing such a large range.

A- likes swimming too. I think we’ll keep that pretty informal for now, since it’s easy for me to take her to various pools depending on the gaps in our week and when she wakes up. She had fun kicking while wearing a flotation device, and she’s also curious about blowing bubbles. I can probably spend the next few months bringing her to places with shallow toddler pools, and that should take care of swimming without putting too much pressure on our schedule. Besides, this way, I can invite other families along.

The city also had a few science- and engineering-type activities for little kids, but I can probably do those things on my own for now. Likewise, there are private companies that offer cooking classes for toddlers, but I can do that at home.

The High Park Nature Centre also has programs for kids this age. I’ll just start by taking her on the trails often. I’ll step up nature education when A- is about three or so, probably drawing from books like Discovering Nature with Young Children (and the rest of the Young Scientist series) and Small Wonders: Nature Education for Young Children. The nature centre has the advantage of experience and animal encounters, so we’ll look into that when she’s ready for more structure and lots of hiking.

Our Ontario Science Centre membership has definitely paid off. We go almost every week, often meeting up with Jen and E-. A- loves the pretend supermarket, the water table, the music section, and the spinning thing. I renewed that one for another two years.

I sprung for another year of the Curator’s Circle membership level for the Royal Ontario Museum. I made good use of the guest privileges last year by making it my default location for inviting people out, and maybe I’ll get to do more of that this year. A- often requests to go to the museum after music class, since it’s right next door. She’s still not keen on the drop-in centre with toys, but she likes the animal exhibits and can point to many large animals when prompted.

We went to Riverdale Farm a couple of times this year. She’s beginning to be more interested in the animals there, although she’s still wary of the sheep. (“Sheep big! Sheep noisy!”) Worth the occasional trip out even though we haven’t made it to any of the farmer demos, and easy to combine with a short walk to the Children’s Book Bank.

A- liked going to the bouldering gym, too. There’s one near us that has a small kiddie area that has a slide. It’s a three-person affair, since W- needs to hold A- up and I need to climb to the top so that I can lift her over the ledge and slide down with her. I pay for a pass for her, a pass for me, and my shoe rental, and I get to have a short workout climbing too. It’s good for her to see us trying, falling, picking ourselves up, and learning. J- goes to the same gym, so more modeling there too. We’ve gone twice. I’m up for going again when W- and J-‘s schedules permit.

Some playgrounds also have climbing features, and some even use rock-climbing holds. I remember seeing them at Regent Park and at Withrow Park. When the weather warms up, we’ll go on a tour of playgrounds.

What do I need to learn about or prepare in order to support her learning?

  • Music: I can mix in more nursery rhymes and folk songs as she gets the hang of the ones we covered before. She’s also getting interested in instruments, so it’s good to both model having fun playing and let her explore. She’s interested in dancing, so we’ll do more of that pancreas, too.
  • Language: Time to dust off those Ready for Reading recommendations and request award-winning children’s books from the library! A- loves reading, and I absorb more ideas about art and verse as I read things over and over. I’d also like to establish a steady rhythm of making books myself, too. The fridge magnets and the availability of print in everyday life encourage A-‘s interest in identifying letters, and we can continue to let her take the lead.
  • Art: This phase focuses on making marks, exploring materials, and describing actions. I can bring drawing supplies when we visit her grandmother. I can set out large pieces of drawing paper. I can present her drawing and playdough supplies attractively, and I can make them more pleasurable to use. I can model more drawing in front of her. The Trofast drawers we set up in the living room are doing a good job of organizing A-‘s Duplo collection, and A- often plays with Duplo (building towers or playing with the playground). I can review Growing Artists for ideas to take advantage of her new capabilities.
  • Toileting: I think we can redo Oh Crap potty training whenever we’re ready. No rush. A- figured out how to get through a whole diaper-free month without accidents, but our long trip got her used to wearing diapers again. It’s a bit cool, but maybe I can offer her a choice between cloth diapers or going diaperless at home, or I can do more of a conceptual nudge through books. She’s interested in being a big kid at the moment, so it might be a good time.
  • Dressing: She’s working on more fine motor skills. I might be able to get away without fancy dressing frames or toys, since she can practice with my pajamas and my shoelaces. Although if we make it to the EarlyON centre one of these days, there’s a toy with a nice big button that she could use for practice.
  • Physical activity: Lots of walking and going to playgrounds, plus the gymnastics classes I signed up for and the occasional bouldering session too. I can also encourage her to carry heavy things.
  • Independent play: This fits naturally into our household routines. I just need to keep recognizing opportunities for her to go and explore.
  • Cooking and eating: She’s getting more comfortable with a butter knife. She can cut with a serrated knife or even a pointy knife if I carefully guide her hand-over-hand. If I look up cooking class ideas for toddlers, I’ll probably find more things we can do together. It might be time to get colour-coded measuring cups like the ones my sister got for her kids. She’s okay with tongs, too, so I’ll pick up training chopsticks as well.
  • Sleep: Most toddler activities are in the morning. A- and I both seem to be night owls. It’s been nice letting her sleep in, but maybe I should take the hit, deal with a few weeks or months of slight crankiness, and move our schedules earlier. Anyway, we’ll see how things work out as she gets older. If she accepts our nudges to night-wean, that will probably change things too.

So much to learn this year. Fun fun fun! It seems to work out pretty well if I let her take the lead, and even better if I’ve prepared the opportunities and learned more about supporting her learning. This is totally not about turning her into some kind of prodigy. It’s more fun to be a kid, and it’s better for her too. I’m just doing this because I’m having a lot of fun learning with and from her. :) We’ll see what we can learn and share!

Making books for A-

A- loves being read to. She picks up new words and ideas from the books we read, requests both favourites and new books again and again, and can identify objects in photographs and drawings. I borrowed a few children’s books from the library in case reading about upcoming changes or challenges helps her understand. The books were okay, but didn’t quite fit the words we use or the way we like to handle things. So this week, I decided to make my own books for A-, especially since there are few books that cover things like microphthalmia.

The first book I made was about night weaning, since we might have to do that in preparation for dental surgery under anaesthesia. I sketched it using ZoomNotes on my iPad, exported the SVG, tinkered with it in Inkscape, exported PNGs, combined the PNGs with ImageMagick, and created a 12-page PDF with 7″x8.5″ pages. That let me print the book out on legal-size paper (8.5″x14″), 2 pages per sheet, duplex printing set to flip on the short side, using this page order:
12, 1, 2, 11, 10, 3, 4, 9, 8, 5, 6, 7. I folded each sheet in half. Instead of hand-sewing the binding, I just taped the pages together. And just like that, I had a book that I could page through properly: “No More Nursing, Time to Sleep.”

I read the new book to A-. She asked me to reread it several times. She pointed to the book and said, “A-!” She pointed to the stick figure for me and said, “Mama!” Success!

The next thing I wanted to try was printing in colour. We recently replaced our printer with an HP M277dw colour laser printer that could print duplex, so I was looking forward to giving that a try. I wanted to make a book about the conformer in A-‘s little eye. This time, I drew the pages of the book using layers in Medibang Paint. I drew on the bus home from Riverdale Farm, working around a sleeping A- snuggled in my carrier. I exported each layer as a PNG, used ImageMagick to convert pairs of pages into what I needed to print (page order: 8, 1, 2, 7, 6, 3, 4, 5), combined those into a PDF. I couldn’t figure out how to get the HP app to properly scale the document and print in duplex, but printing from Linux worked fine. I quickly had another book in my hands: “My Conformer.”

She’s starting to echo phrases from the to books, and it’s been only a few days. Wow!

I’m working on a third book now. Time for something fun: “Let’s Make a Smoothie,” since she enjoys making and drinking them. She already knows all the words, so this is more about enjoyment. This time, I’m going to make a workflow that lets me draw on two-page spreads. I don’t have any wide drawings planned yet, but it could be handy for later. I made an Inkscape template to help me keep margins in mind. I learned how to use Medibang Paint’s folders to organize all the layers, and I’m getting the hang of digitally tracing and painting the photos I took.

I’m looking forward to making even more books and refining my workflow along the way. Here are a few things I want to try:

  • Flat colour
  • Painting
  • Programmatically adding text
  • Printing photos
  • Two-page drawing
  • Parametric templates
  • Smaller format by cutting
  • Programmatically adding photos
  • Heavier-weight paper
  • Board book replacement
  • Printing at Staples or similar
  • Print-on-demand book
  • Handstitching
  • Binding with a cover
  • Smaller format by folding and gluing
  • Mobile workflow
  • Vector drawing

And a few quick ideas for possible next books:

  • Potty Time
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Feelings
  • When I Feel Nervous
  • When I Feel Sad
  • Going to Sleep at the Dentist
  • My Life
  • My Day
  • Going Out
  • At Home
  • I Can…
  • I Can Draw
  • Waiting
  • Try Again
  • Dressing Up
  • Alimango sa Dagat
  • Leron Leron Sinta

Week ending 2018-02-23

What a week!

A- was so active. She liked dancing by herself or with us, sometimes inviting us by singing part of “Shall We Dance.” When we went swimming for her birthday, she picked up rings with her arms and feet, happily wore a flotation device, and kicked in a reasonable approximation of swimming. She walked astride her balance bike out of arms reach and all the way from the living room to the kitchen. She was interested in rockclimbing, especially after we strapped on the smallest pair of shoes at the climbing gym. (Still a bit big, but manageable.) She liked the new lights from IKEA, and got the hang of turning them on and off by herself.

A- regularly used prepositional phrases, saying things like “A- put fish cracker in mouth.” She went through a phase of saying “I don’t like it,” but is back to asking specifically for what she wants. I can say “Show me sleepy” and other adjectives from her favourite books, and she’ll do it. She picked up more social graces, too – she said “Excuse me” after passing gas. She talked about things that happened and how she felt, like when she accidentally dropped her potty and she was upset. We went to the Children’s Book Bank and picked up a nursery rhyme book and a book about Chinese ceramics by the artist who drew McDull.

It’s been a musical week as well. She was looping over “Happy birthday to you” and “Muvili zuma zuma.” She arranged chairs like in music class, had us sit in them, and did a few of the songs and rhymes. She was interested in banging on the piano, tapping the rhythm sticks, playing percussion on the table, and blowing on the recorder. “Just like music class,” she said.

A- enjoyed the Chinese New Year party at Uncle Morgan and Auntie Cathy’s. She loved going up and down the stairs with Uncle Morgan. She even have everyone goodbye hugs. During the week, we visited Popo for a relaxed afternoon. A- ate lots of grapes and learned a few Cantonese words. We went swimming with Jen and E-, and we had a late lunch with Eric afterwards. A- ate lots of fries. We also went to the Science Centre with Joy and J-.

The pediatrician is going to see about referrals to Sick Kids dentistry and endocrinology. More tests ahead, but that’s okay, we can handle this.

2018-02-26 Emacs news

Links from reddit.com/r/emacs, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News, planet.emacsen.org, YouTube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.

Scribe and tinker

I’ve been figuring out more about what tickles my brain and what I want to do with my life.

On one hand, I’m a scribe. I like extracting, organizing, and connecting ideas. I like getting stuff out of my head and into a form that I can work with or share with other people. I often like helping get stuff out of other people’s heads too. This explains my fascination with blogging, sketchnoting, personal knowledge management, and processes. To get better at this, I can focus on skills like:

  • Asking questions
  • Finding resources
  • Making sense
  • Connecting and building on ideas
  • Organizing
  • Communicating
  • Archiving

On the other hand, I’m a tinker. I like tweaking things to make them better. It’s not about big inventions, but small, continuous improvements. This explains my fascination with Emacs, Quantified Self, open source, and general geeking around. To get better at this, I can focus on skills like:

  • Seeing problems and possibilities
  • Estimating, prioritizing, and evaluating
  • Setting up experiments
  • Connecting ideas
  • Learning techniques
  • Coding
  • Tweaking physical things

If I look at the intersection of being a scribe and being a tinker, that explains my interest in:

  • Building/tweaking systems to help me capture, organize, connect, and share knowledge
  • Writing about experiments and lessons learned

What would it look like to be very, very good at these things? It’s quite convenient that I’m into knowledge work, since I can learn from millennia of people passionate about that. Tinkering shows up in entrepreneurship and invention, so I have plenty of role models there, too. I could probably spend a lifetime learning as much as I can from Benjamin Franklin and similar people.

How does parenting influence this? What can I gain from being the primary caregiver of a young child?

I’ve taken advantage of my push towards externalizing memory to work out a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly journaling workflow that works for me, and a way to think about questions in the scattered moments I have for myself. It took a bit of figuring out and there are things I still want to improve about my process. Chances are that there are other similarly-inclined people who could benefit. I wonder what things could be like if we could get better at thinking, capturing, and sharing at this stage. I don’t expect that I’ll come up with some brilliant insights. Most of my notes are about everyday life or my own questions. Still, I notice that this process seems to be good for my mental health, and it’s okay for me to explore ideas slowly especially if I get better at building on ideas instead of going around in circles. I can let the tough meaning-making be handled by people like Pulitzer-prize journalists (surely there must be quite a few who have also been or will become primary caregivers) and people who have different life arrangements (like part-time daycare), and I can focus on the questions I’m particularly curious about or the things that are uncommon about our experiments.

As for tinkering, there are tons of improvement opportunities exposed by the demands of parenting. If I keep track of the pain points/opportunities and work on improving my skills, I’ll probably grow at just the right pace. It would be interesting to improve my quick-experiment rate. Reading and thinking give me lots of things to try in terms of parenting, and talking to other people might help a lot too. W- is a good mentor for quick DIY and household things. It’s a little harder to do quick programming tweaks at the moment, but that can wait until I can concentrate more. I’ve set up my phone so that I can do some things through it, so I can consider the tradeoff between coding on my phone versus using the time to write.

I think I can make this work so that the time and energy I’ll devote to A- over the next couple of years can count for other goals, too. The more clearly I understand myself, the more effectively I can use my time and attention. I’m looking forward to seeing where writing more can take me, since I can do that while A-‘s nursing. During the day, it could be good to explore improvements to our physical environment and our processes, since A- can appreciate those too. There’ll be time for other things later, as A- becomes more capable and more independent. Onward!