Categories: parenting

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A+ 0, X220 1!

| geek, parenting

We were playing MineClone 2 in the living room, as we often do these evenings. I was tidying up the farm, and A+ was impatiently waiting for me to finish because she wanted to pretend to be the village witch and trade some potions for emeralds. She tried to clamber over me to get to the other side, and she tripped on my Lenovo X220T laptop's screen.

The screen glitched solid blue and didn't go back to normal even after I rebooted. Aaaah! Big feelings! I took a few deep breaths. A+ immediately became defensive, blaming me angrily for having the laptop there in the first place. (It was on my lap! I was sitting on the couch!) I took a few more deep breaths. I reminded myself that this is precisely the reason I have an "oops" fund, and that taking out my frustration on her wouldn't solve the problem. I also reminded myself that I didn't have to freak out about her not apologizing. First things first. I SSHed in and started another backup, took a few more breaths, and thought about things.

So the screen was probably broken. I still had lots of options. I could use it with an external monitor. I could swap the SSD into the other X220T, the one with the slightly broken screen (I had stepped on it during the sleep-deprived days of early parenting) and the wobbly power input that tended to lose contact. When my laptop screen glitched dim in university, that got me to learn more about Emacspeak and I ended up making that the basis for my senior project; perhaps this was another opportunity along those lines.

If it was unrecoverable, I could buy another computer, as I've been meaning to upgrade. Still can't have nice things, obviously, so probably the Lenovo T480 for its upgradability. T480s seem to be selling from between CAD 300-400 in our area. I've been waffling on upgrading my computer for a few years now, so that might be a good option.

It was already quite late at night, and I decided not to spend too much more time on it. Things would be clearer with more sleep and more space.

The next day, W- and A+ gave me enough space in the morning to disassemble the X220T following the service manual, down to the LCD panel and LCD cable. I disconnected and reconnected every component, and then I turned the computer on again. It worked, hooray! And I only had three screws left over. (Whoops! That's what I get for not following the service manual closely on the way back up, and not using lots of labelled containers for sorting the different screws for each steps.)

I'm glad about how it all worked out. I'm glad I didn't lose my cool and that I didn't catastrophize either the accident or A+'s response to it. This was the most I'd disassembled my laptop so far, which was pretty neat especially since I managed to get it working again. And it works, which means I might be able to procrastinate deciding on a new computer for another couple of years.

Hooray for this X220, and for learning how to be a better parent!

Minetest and MineClone 2

| fun, geek, play

A number of A+'s friends play Minecraft, so she got curious about it and started reading lots of e-books. We figured it might be time to let the video game genie out of the bottle since she tends to dive deeply into new interests and learn a lot. I wanted to get her started on Minetest, though, instead of buying one of the Minecraft editions. (Yay free and open source software!)

I installed MineTest, then used the Content tab to install MineClone 2 and the tutorial. I updated the other X220 so that I could run it there too, and we eventually turned it into a server. I went through the tutorial and then I showed it to her. We drew up an agreement to treat it the same as video time (20-minute timers for eye breaks, daily limits, need to be in the green zone). W- connected the other X220 to the TV with a VGA cable, and I used a USB hub to connect two keyboards and two mice to the laptop. A+ completed part of the tutorial. She found it hard to work the keyboard and the mouse while looking at the screen. She liked giving me directions to follow, taking over clicking or crafting whenever she felt comfortable.

We've been playing MineClone for almost a week, and it's starting to feel comfortable. We have a little base with a wheat/carrot farm, a well, and a fishing pond, and we're exploring the world. We might try creative mode in a while.

It looks like A+'s mostly curious about mobs, farming, ores, and flying around. She loves noticing things to explore and new recipes to craft. W- sometimes joins us, which is extra fun and helpful.

Minetest gives me opportunities to learn useful things, too. I'm getting better at saying yes to A+ when she wants to craft something, even if I wanted to save the materials for something else. (I should make a MineClone version of the reminder in our kitchen that says "Groceries are tuition for raising a cook.")

I'm still too impatient for the regular process of navigating around and bumping into resources, especially since we're working within 20-minute segments. I flew around with noclip/fast and set up some Travelnet boxes near interesting things, which A+ has liked a lot because now she can teleport independently.

I'm way too chicken to deal with damage, hostile mobs, or even night time at the moment. Since A+ would really like me to go fight the mobs she loves to read about, I'm thinking about how to gradually build up my courage with some kind of exposure therapy. =) I started learning how to modify armor so that I can keep myself mostly protected while leaving damage enabled for anyone who's braver (like W-). Maybe as I get the hang of it, I'll be able to dial down the protection or just let it keep a minimum HP level.

Lots of learning ahead!

Visual book notes: Influence is Your Superpower - Zoe Chance (2022)

| visual-book-notes, parenting

It was interesting to read Zoe Chance's book Influence is Your Superpower (2022) with a focus on influencing A-, who is 6 years old and definitely more reachable via her Gator brain than her Judge brain. Shining is easier because I have to connect with just one person who really wants to connect with me. Creating space with the "No" challenge is a little tougher, since she's pretty wise to the way I try to soften nos. ("You always say later!") But I'm definitely going to try to practise doing aikido with her mind, accepting her resistance and exploring it with questions. I can work on using my relaxed voice most of the time, especially since she's sensitive to my tone. I also like the tip about using the Zeigarnik effect to invite her curiosity and get her to ask, maybe by using things like "I might know something that could help. Would you like to hear about it?" instead of jumping in with advice. Paying attention to how we frame things (monumental, manageable, mysterious?) and challenging ourselves to do bigger and better might be fun, too. She's old enough that I might even be able to ask her, "What would it take?" I'm sure she'll pick up that behaviour quickly and ask me that when she wants something, so I'd better be prepared for that!

Making better use of time as we grow more independent together

| parenting, time

I've been coming to terms with the idea that I might not get appreciably more focus time over the next few years, if we decide to either continue with virtual school or switch to homeschooling. It's okay. A-'s going to grow more independent and disappear for long stretches of time, so there's no need to rush or push her away just so that I can do stuff on my computer. I'll miss these days soon enough.

So I just need enough me time to keep myself sane and to make better use of interstitial time as the opportunities arise: waiting for her to wake up, waiting for her to finish reading or playing, waiting for her to go to sleep… I'm starting to be able to find 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Most of the time, I can't jump on my laptop. If I'm on a screen, she'll want to be on a screen. Fortunately, my SuperNote doesn't trigger that sense of unfairness, so I can draw or write as long as I'm willing to let her use it if she wants to draw too.

I get some coding time here and there, too. I've shifted to more of an advisory role for my consulting, helping a couple of other developers via text chat on my phone throughout the day and sitting down to code when A-'s watching a movie. Sometimes I work on personal projects while A- watches a movie. She's very good at insisting we both take eye breaks, and from all her questions, I get the feeling that her brain is still very busy processing the Nth time through Frozen or the LEGO Movie. Cool, cool. Might as well use that time to work on continuous improvement. There's always more tidying to do, but it's also good to play around with ideas and try to make things better.

So, what do I want to think about and work on when these opportunities come up? How can I accelerate during those little sprints of thinking time?

  • Drawing and writing: I can collect questions to reflect on or thoughts to untangle, so I can quickly pick one and add to a sketch or a handwritten draft of a blog post.
  • Book notes: I can keep a bookmark in a book and sketchnote a few more pages when I have the chance. Bonus: she sees me reading. Good time to learn more about parenting, education, psychology, and other topics that might be useful.
  • Coding: I can work on setting up my server so that I can write and publish blog posts from my phone, including referring to sketches and converting hand-written drafts.
  • House: I can get rid of more clutter so that I can find things more easily.
  • Tech: I can prepare ePubs and PDFs to read on my SuperNote so that I can learn more about things that will make coding easier or more fun.

What if I want to create more time? How can I get more focused time?

  • E-book reading time: A- quickly finishes books from the library, but the tablet can be a portal to thousands more books. Besides, sometimes she just wants to read, and that's okay.
  • More consistent bedtime: if I go to sleep at a reasonable time, I can use some time in there morning to do stuff. I just have to be ready to set it aside when she wakes up.
  • At the playground: if we're at a playdate, I like to still pay attention to the kids and the other parents. I can bring a 3x3 cube and my SuperNote to take advantage of spare time, though.
  • More books to lose herself in: I pick up lots of book recommendations from Facebook, and the library's a great source. It's a win all around: we get extra exercise walking to the library, she learns about more things and more words, and I get time to focus on something.
  • Take-out/convenience foods, preparing ahead: it takes me around an hour to make dinner. I can occasionally swap some of that time for thinking or coding time by using money. Hmm…

It'll be great. Sure, it's not the sudden jump in discretionary time that I might have had if A- was going to go to in-person school, but this way could be good too. I can grow into it just like A- will grow into her own independence. It reminds me of the way my 5-year experiment with semi-retirement started off with lots of consulting and slowly ratcheted down until I felt comfortable using most of my time for my own stuff. We can learn about time apart together.

Visual Book Notes: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals - Oliver Burkeman (2021)

| visual-book-notes, parenting, experiment

I liked Oliver Burkeman's 2021 book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It covered many of the things I've been working learning on for the past 10 years on this experiment with semi-retirement and parenting. Learning to sit with anxieties and uncertainties, accepting my limits and working with them, being here now… These are the lessons I find myself practising every day.

Some things have gotten easier. I've become comfortable with an ever-growing task list that I know I'll never clear. My default task status is SOMEDAY, and I treat the list like a buffet of ideas that I can choose from when I want to. Which is hardly ever, since I'm still living on kid time and have very little focused time for myself. Most days I'm okay with this, as childhood is fleeting and my main challenge is to really be here for it. This is tough. I've been learning that I'm very human. I turn into a hangry ogre if we're out too late. I grump at A- if I get too tired. I work on separating the shark music of my anxiety from what's really going on. We joke about my squirrel brain and find ways to deal with its limits. I've given up many of my illusions about control. Knowing that I still have lots to learn even though I'm almost 39 makes it much easier for me to appreciate A-'s being 6. My journal helps me see how the days build up into months and years. I'm still on the anxious side, but W- helps balance that, and developing resourcefulness and resilience will help too.

While the book is mostly about confronting and working with the limits of being mortal, it also had some interesting thoughts about the value of being in sync with other people. Tangling my life up with W- and A- has helped me learn about things I would never have stretched myself to do on my own. I can see how A- enjoys playing with her friends. We've decided to go with virtual school for Grade 1 to minimize COVID risks (and I've been keeping an eye on monkeypox news too, ugh). I wonder if we can get a full synchronous exemption again this year. It's been nice following A-'s interests. But we did kinda miss out on group experiences of music and dance, and I'm not sure I'll find outdoor classes for those within walking distance. Online classes exist, but then we'll need to sync up with someone else's schedule. Maybe someday, if A- wants it strongly enough. Here I remind myself not to worry too much about her future, not to try to orchestrate things too much. It is enough to observe, support, and join her in learning. Besides, we can still have fun with clapping games and tea parties.

Anyway. Mortality. Cosmic insignificance. I can attest that thinking about these things can be surprisingly reassuring. All we can do is what we can do, and that's enough. Tomorrow I will dress and eat and brush teeth and play and tidy and do other things that I do every day. Against this backdrop of mostly-sameness, A- grows. If I pay attention, I may even notice it–for just as unexpected lasts sneak up on you, unexpected firsts do as well. If I pay attention, I might notice I'm growing too.

Turns out the Rubik's cube is just right for this stage with A-

| parenting, fun, cubing

I spend a lot of time waiting for A-. Sometimes I'm waiting for her to finish reading a book or watching a video. Sometimes it takes her forever to get to bed. She can sometimes amuse herself independently, but she often still wants me around somewhere in the room. Someday she won't, so in the meantime, I wait. I can't be on my phone or laptop during times like that, because then she'll want screentime too. Sometimes I tidy, sometimes I read, sometimes I write.

It turns out that learning to solve the Rubik's cube is an interest that slots neatly into my life with A-. We picked it up recently because A- was interested in my old Pyraminx.

Our order from Cubing Out Loud turned out to be a pretty good introduction to the world of speedcubing:

  • a MoYu RS3 M 2020, a magnetized 3x3x3 cube for $10 CAD
  • a YuXin Little Magic 3x3x3 M, another magnetized 3x3x3 cube for $9 CAD
  • a YJ MGC 2x2x2 M, a magnetized 2x2x2 cube for $11 CAD
  • and some lubricant

The speed cubes were way smoother than the Rubik's cubes I remember from high school and university. The 2x2x2 cube was great for helping A- practise simple algorithms and get that feeling of success. She quickly graduated to the 3x3x3 cubes. She loves solving it from the fish position, so W- and I solve the first two layers, and then she solves it from there. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly she picked up the beginner algorithms that we showed her, and she took great delight in learning finger tricks and being able to do the Sune move in three seconds. I can do the Anti-Sune just about as fast as she can do the Sune, so we trade cubes back and forth. Sometimes I mix things up so that she has to permute the last layer, too. She's gradually branching out to more algorithms, and will sometimes even take on solving it from a full scramble.

Cubing seems to be a good way for her to practise distinguishing left from right, clockwise from counter-clockwise. We talk about averages, minimums, and moves per second. She likes taking apart our cubes, tweaked the tension, and lubing them. (Reassembling them is a job for grown-ups, apparently.) She likes playing around with different patterns. It spread into her pretend play too. She loves watching JPerm and parroting his lines.

For my part, I enjoy slowly learning different algorithms and feeling things start to click. I can usually solve the 3x3 in under two minutes now (nothing remarkable; most beginners get there), and have lately been averaging around 1:30. I'm getting the hang of solving colour-neutral crosses by moving edges around and ignoring centers, and of solving the first two layers together. I like practising algorithms while keeping an eye on her at the playground. I'm getting better at smiling even when A- snatches the partially-solved cube I was working on with the timer running. I'm not aiming for any records, anyway.

Since W- has gotten into cubing as well, we have determined that we need more cubes. Also, to save our phones from A-'s rather enthusiastic timer use, a StackMat timer and a mat are probably a good idea. Speed Cube Shop had a wider selection than Cubing Out Loud, so we ordered a few cubes and accessories from there. She insisted on getting a Gan cube with some of her savings. Hey, at least these highly-engineered bits of plastic generally stay in one piece, don't get scattered all over the floor, don't need to be sorted into various bins, and don't get stepped on. (I'm kidding, LEGO, we still like you.)

In terms of Android apps, I like Nano Timer. It's free and allows me to keep times in different categories, like a regular solve, A- starting from the fish, or co-op. There's even a multi-step timer for breaking down things like CFOP. A- likes Finger Timer because it looks like a StackMat timer.

Naturally, I'm getting the urge to do something about Rubik's cubes and Emacs. A timer that will let me quickly reassign my current time from "Regular 3x3 solve" to "Solved until A- grabbed the fish"? (It'll have to work on my phone - maybe Termux or SSH, or a web-based approach…) An Org Babel block type for visualizing cubes and moves so that I can make my own notes and blog posts? An SVG version of that text-based Rubik's cube that someone wrote for Emacs? A scramble generator that lets me pick the type of scramble I want and then uses the Kociemba algorithm to generate the steps for scrambling it? Anyway, it'll have to wait until I get a few things off my plate, like EmacsConf and the usual year-end paperwork.

In the meantime, I have things to learn while I wait. I think I'd like to get to the point of being able to do the cross blind. I'm also working on memorizing the rest of 4LLL, and then full OLL/PLL after that.. Anyway, so that's what we've been up to in the evenings while waiting for A- to go to bed.

Making a menu of activities

| sketchnotes, drawing, parenting, play

A- wants to be with me almost all the time. This can be challenging.

A multiple-choice question is easier than a fill-in-the-blank one, especially when it comes to "What do we do now?" A- seems less grumpy throughout the day when she can go from one activity to another of her choosing. I like letting her take the lead. I also like not having to come up with stuff. During bedtime, I sketched this menu: